An airplane is stationary on a runway; the sky is cloudy and grey.
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Is an in-person COP26 worth the carbon footprint it will leave behind?

By Ashmita Shanthakumar

With leaders flying to Glasgow from all around the globe, it’s important to remember that an in-person conference is beneficial to the overall climate.

If you’ve been on social media lately, chances are you have come across Daily Record’s article, “Private jets flying to COP26 will blast more CO2 than Scots pump out in a year”. However, this headline is misleading as the article itself reveals that the 400 private jets coming to Scotland release as much CO2 as 1600 Scots would use on warming gas in a year. While this is still a large amount of CO2, it’s not as terrible as the headline implies. It may be common for our generation to engage in clickbait — how many times have you said “I saw an article that….” without seeing more than the headline for it? However, I argue that the spread of this clickbait is symptomatic of people’s larger feelings toward COP26.

Yes, COP26 may be inconvenient for those living in Glasgow. Many of the roads have been closed, forcing people to have to go through alternate, possibly longer routes, and many classes have been pushed online which has been an annoyance for students. However, we must remember that this is an extremely important time in terms of our future.

Considering the impact that Covid-19 has had on in-person meetings, it is critical that this conference is carried out face to face. The world delegates need to meet together to discuss the climate crisis before it becomes too late to make a difference. Moreover, having the conference in person means that the delegates will see, for themselves, the magnitude of environmental activists that are here from all over the world marching in the streets. An in-person conference allows people to have a voice through protests and activism. People being able to attend marches and events this week has led to a large amount of education in Scotland (and around the world), which wouldn’t have been possible if COP26 had been held online.

While private jets are bad for the environment, they are also important for the safety of world leaders. People like President Biden and Angela Merkel may not have chosen to travel here if they didn’t think they could get here safely, which would be a shame considering the importance of their presence at the conference. I do agree that an entire jet for one person is wasteful – not every single politician needs their own jet. Ideally, we would find an economical solution that also ensures safety — luckily, finding eco-friendly solutions is what the conference is all about. 

Even though it might seem counterintuitive to travel on a private jet while claiming to care about the climate crisis, the benefits of introducing laws that can solve the issue outweigh the cost. Even though the Daily Record article’s statement that “an executive or politician taking one long haul private flight will burn more CO2 than several normal people do in a year” may be true, it isn’t looking at the greater picture. 

While this event does have a big carbon footprint, it could lower the world’s overall carbon footprint even more. I think we should hold a more optimistic attitude towards COP26 and hope that the benefits outweigh the costs. 


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