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Advisors Opinion | 'COP was a flop, but pace of change is accelerating'

Mon 15 Nov 2021 | 02:00 pm GMT
June Kirkwood | Products of Change Writer

COP26 ended on a duff note for many, but it has stoked the fires of collective action

COP26 has drawn to a close and people are questioning what it has achieved. The aim of the summit was to unite the world in taking urgent action to reach the goals set by the Paris Agreement, and specifically to restrict global warming to less than 1.5°C. The consensus seems to be that, while progress has been made and there is still a chance to stay below 1.5°C of warming, COP26 has fallen short of the securing the commitments urgently needed to achieve this aim. In acknowledgement of this, the summit closed with an undertaking by the 196 countries taking part to “revisit and strengthen” new plans by the end of 2022 to have any hope of “keeping alive” the 1.5°C target.
COP26 was held in Glasgow and ran for two weeks with negotiations and activations held across the event.
The overall objectives for the summit were to “accelerate urgent action to secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5°C within reach; help communities and natural habitats to adapt to the impacts of climate change; demonstrate that public and private finance is being mobilised for the climate”. While developed countries only committed to deliver on their pledge to pay $100 billion annually to developing countries by the end of 2023, three years later than scheduled, some headway was made, including agreements to halt deforestation by 2030, to reduce methane levels, block new oil and gas projects and for fossil fuel subsidies to end. Significantly, a commitment was given to reduce the use of coal, however the agreed wording for the Glasgow Pact was watered down from “phasing out” to “phasing down” in the final negotiation. This could still be seen as a breakthrough, as noted by the New Scientist, “Until today, coal and fossil fuel subsidies have never been explicitly mentioned in 26 years of treaties and decisions at UN climate talks, despite coal being one of the key drivers of global warming and $5.9 trillion of subsidies being given annually to coal, oil and gas.” It’s clear that while Boris Johnson, a late convert to climate change, wanted the UK to be seen to be leading the way, he’s going to have to do more than provide sound bites. As Chair of the Lord’s Environment and Climate Change Committee, Baroness Parminter summed up the Committee’s take on the progress made by COP26. "Our view is that incremental progress has been achieved but not in line with the urgency we require," she said before raising the concerns of the Committee that government departments “don’t seem to be embedding the need for climate change considerations into their policy decision making." She even went on to label the decisions that have been made, such as the change to the domestic fuel tax levy on aviation as "perverse". In spite of the consensus that the summit has fallen short, there are some positives. As John Ashton, former Special Representative for Climate Change at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, commented on the Today programme on Thursday morning, the difference between COP26 and previous COPs is that the public now understands the climate change issue. This has meant more interest in COP26 than previous sessions, which in turn has put more pressure on governments to commit to meaningful change and, specifically, has reduced the potential for them to ‘fudge’ the results. It’s also one of the reasons why governments will have to reconvene next year with new and improved plans. With a huge amount of discussion about getting to net zero at COP26, change consultants McKinsey believe that “COP26 made net zero a core principle of business.” For them it became very clear that executives “expect an acceleration of climate action across the real economy: at the system level, throughout industries, and within organizations.” From 2023, UK-listed companies will be required to release their net zero plans, as announced by UK the Chancellor Rishi Sunak earlier in the year and reiterated at COP26. Building on this theme of mandatory disclosures, the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) was also unveiled at COP. The ISSB will replace existing voluntary disclosures with a new set of “baseline” global standards that companies could use to tell investors about the impact of climate change on their business. The aim is to discourage greenwashing, with companies creating headlines about their progress towards net zero, without having the necessary emissions data to substantiate their claims. By way of illustration, The Sustainability Survey 2020 report by the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM) and Inenco Group, polled 311 businesses ranging from SMEs to multinationals. Of the companies polled, 49 per cent had set a ‘clear’ net zero target, and half of these were following the Science-Based Target Initiative (SBTi), with the rest developing their own road maps. Significantly, only 35 per cent had access to enough emissions data to track their progress, while 12 per cent had no baseline figure to measure against. Only 12 per cent of these companies had had their targets verified by a third party. While the overall result of COP26 may have been disappointing, it’s clear that understanding about the need for change is growing and the pace of this change is accelerating. Will Hutton writes in the Observer, that "the growing conviction of voters and consumers, further intensified by environmental campaigners at COP26, that the climate crisis is real and is forcing change.” He goes on to say that what “we as individuals can do and how we think is too easily diminished by the despairing analysis that humanity is doomed by the refusal of governments and big companies to act”. What COP26 has shown is that as individuals, as consumers, as campaigners, as business leaders, we can all make a difference and we all need to act. If COP26 has left you feeling compelled to act, either as an individual or on behalf of your business, take this chance to book in a one-to-one session with one of the Products of Change Advisors at the Sustainability Clinic taking place at Brand Licensing Europe this week. The Products of Change Advisors - including June Kirkwood and Arthur Parry - will be at the Sustainability Activation to field questions and help you each set out on your own sustainability journey.
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