WHEN Dr Simon Cook went to the Swiss Alps this summer on his first fieldwork trip since Covid, the effects of climate change were clear to see.

The geoscientist at the University of Dundee, who has travelled the world studying glaciers, was met with the unusual sight of no snow all the way up to the top of the mountain.

“It was quite sobering to see these glaciers were basically just bare ice – that is quite unusual,” he said.

“To see glaciers without any snow, even in the summer, is very unusual.”

One cause was the heatwave which hit Europe this summer, resulting in record-breaking temperatures – including an unprecedented 35C recorded for the first time in Scotland.

It is just one of a series of events that have changed the global landscape in the year since world leaders gathered in Glasgow for COP26, a summit which was billed as the “last hope” to save the planet.

The National: Dr Simon CookDr Simon Cook

There have been devastating floods in Pakistan, the sudden collapse of a glacier in the Italian Alps, and drought in places such as Africa.

There has been war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis – and all the while, oil and gas companies rake in record profits.

As leaders gather for the next COP getting underway in Egypt today, questions remain over the progress made since the Glasgow climate talks, which included a historic agreement to limit global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Cook said one disappointing aspect of COP26 was the pledge around coal-fired power, which was watered down at the last minute from “phasing out” to “phasing down”.

The UK Government has since raised the possibility of opening up a new coal mine in Cumbria, which would be the first in 30 years. A planning decision on the mine has been delayed until December, after COP27.

Cook said: “The energy crisis and the climate crisis are entwined. We are in an energy crisis because we are overdependent on fossil fuels.

“But we are also in a climate crisis because we are overdependent on fossil fuels.

“It seems like a bit of a no-brainer to try to develop policies that would reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for those two twin reasons.”

He said the Scottish Government has been more progressive in aiming to reach net zero by 2045, five years ahead of most other countries. Scotland has also been more progressive in terms of its total ban on fracking, whereas the UK Government did equivocate recently on that – before it banned fracking again,” he said.

“And there has been a pledge of no new coal mines in Scotland, whereas the UK Government is obviously flirting with the idea of opening a new coal mine.

“Scotland is probably punching above its weight in terms of leadership on the issue.”

Nicola Sturgeon will be attending COP27, with one focus for the First Minister expected to be continuing momentum on encouraging other countries to follow Scotland’s lead in committing funding to help address “loss and damage” in nations vulnerable to climate change. The UK Government’s environmental actions since COP26 have been questionable, with more drilling planned in the North Sea and a ban on onshore wind farms being just some of the policies which have emerged during the chaos of three prime ministers.

The National: Nicola sturgeon will be encouraging other countries to follow Scotland's led at COP27Nicola sturgeon will be encouraging other countries to follow Scotland's led at COP27

Rishi Sunak made a U-turn on even going to the COP27 talks after saying he would be staying at home to focus on “domestic challenges”, triggering a huge backlash.

Among those who had called for him to go was the UK’s COP president Alok Sharma – who was demoted from Cabinet after Sunak entered Downing Street.

The Prime Minister will address the conference in Sharm El-Sheikh tomorrow, urging world leaders not to “backslide” on commitments made at last year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow intended to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C.

In a statement issued ahead of the summit, he said: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and contemptible manipulation of energy prices has only reinforced the importance of ending our dependence on fossil fuels.

“We need to move further and faster to transition to renewable energy, and I will ensure the UK is at the forefront of this global movement as a clean energy superpower.”

Campaigners warn progress has been slow and far more needs to be done by all governments to tackle the crisis.

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland, said: “The truth is that there has been very limited progress of note since COP26 in Glasgow.

“A huge gap remains between what is needed, what countries have promised, and what is happening in terms of reducing emissions, building resilience, and providing support for low-income countries.

“Climate finance remains stuck in limbo. Even as the demand for financial support to enable countries to adapt to climate disasters grows, funding is only trickling in.”

He added: “We’ve seen little significant progress on tackling the climate crisis in the UK this past year, and in fact, the UK Government has gone backwards with the launch of a new licensing round for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.

“Rhetoric from the Scottish Government that solutions to these recent crises cannot exacerbate the climate crisis is to be welcomed – but the reality is that progress on delivering major policies to cut carbon has been slow.”

Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “Politicians did a lot of backslapping at COP26 with the UK presidency claiming to have kept the goal of 1.5C alive, but these are empty words without the action to deliver on them.

“Over the last year, the UK Government has actively made the climate crisis worse as it opened up new oil fields, tried to bring back fracking and is still considering opening a new coal mine.

“The UK and the Scottish Governments need to set an end date for fossil fuels well within the decade and redouble efforts for a fair transition away to a renewable-powered economy, with affordable heat and transport for all.”