By Sarah Stone, October 2021
It's 5 years since the Paris Accord was signed at COP 21, and the upcoming summit will address what has - and hasn't - been achieved since then. It will also focus on setting concrete plans to reach the Paris Agreement targets. In essence, the conference will work as a stock take on how close countries around the world are to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, the goal set back in 2015.
Why is COP 26 important?
Mainly because governments aren’t anywhere near reaching those targets, and time is running out. 110 countries have so far uploaded their details to the UN’s Climate Action Tracker (scroll down for more details on that) and it’s clear we’re still a long way away from where we need to be.
The failure of governments
The message experts at COP will be delivering is: “It’s too late to avoid climate change, now we need to focus on minimising the damage.” We can expect to hear a lot about acceleration and accountability over the next few weeks; about the need to go a lot further, be faster about it, and identify who is to blame. Public anger at the failure of Governments to reach the targets they set themselves in 2015 is likely to result in some uncomfortable finger pointing. Which is one of the things that makes stories like the one about Australia’s prime minister not attending so newsworthy. It will also be the first COP since the US left the Paris Agreement (under Trump) and then rejoined (under Biden), so there will be extra focus on the activities of the U.S.
Demand for increased engagement by the Private Sector
The other reason this COP is important is because it will be the first time where the focus falls on Non-State Actors, as well as more traditional representatives such as Heads of Government, politicians, and policy makers.
With governments and politicians keen to deflect blame for their failure to reach 2015 targets or ‘Work Together to Deliver” - a key aim for the conference - the spotlight will be shone on the role that corporations and businesses can play in helping reach global targets. As Alison Taylor pointed out in last month's Q&A, the failure of government has led to greater expectations on big business, especially in the eyes of the general public.
“Businesses need to act”
Expect to see greater scrutiny of the private sector and significant demand for greater engagement on climate change issues. There will be pressure on companies to take action, and questions being asked about what large corporations are doing to reach Net Zero.
Race to Zero
“Race to Zero” is the UN-backed global campaign rallying large companies, cities, regions, financial, educational, and healthcare institutions to take rigorous and immediate action to halve global emissions by 2030, in order to deliver a healthier, fairer, and zero carbon world in time.
The campaign aims to mobilise actors outside of national governments to join the Climate Ambition Alliance and “build momentum around the shift to a decarbonised economy ahead of COP26, sending governments a resounding signal that business, cities, regions and investors are united in meeting the Paris goals and creating a more inclusive and resilient economy.”
All members are committed to reducing emissions across the board swiftly and fairly, in line with the Paris Agreement; this means transparent action plans and robust near-term targets. However, at the time of writing, only 4,400 companies had pledged - hardly indicative of the private sector sending a ‘robust message’.
View who has signed up here.
A quick look at the list shows that a lot of household names are noticeably absent. Media outlets are going to need ample climate change-related stories to fill their pages throughout the conference, so the relatively low number of signatories is likely to attract comment, and the private sector (especially very large corporations) should expect scrutiny. Corporate communications teams should be bracing themselves for questions from media, staff, investors, boards and other key stakeholders.
The Climate Action Tracker
The Climate Action Tracker is a tool that monitors the action being taken by individual countries, measuring the impact that their activity will have towards our ability to reach the targets set by the Paris Agreement. You can use the Climate Action Tracker here. We also recommend watching this excellent video from TED which explains what the climate tracker is, how it works, and what the results are looking like – brace yourself though, it’s not pretty viewing.
What can businesses do?
At Samtaler, our work focuses on helping private sector organisations find ways they can make money without having a negative impact on society. We don’t believe we should leave it to policy makers and politicians alone to create the kind of world we want to live in, but we also know that businesses need help to identify where they’re going wrong, and what they can do about it.
The UK government has signed up to some of the most ambitious carbon reduction targets in the West; committing itself to reaching Net Zero by 2050. It can’t do that without businesses help. We write lots of social value bid submissions for clients and one of the things we know is coming is an increasing priority and focus on climate change. If you’re a supplier to the public sector you’ll soon be expected to prove that you’re taking action to mitigate the impact of your activities on the environment.
Where to begin?
1. Talk to us at Samtaler - Book a free 30-minute call with one of our Social Value Practitioners.
2. Sign the Business Ambition for 1.5 pledge which commits to a 1.5°C-compliant business model. It's for large companies with over 500 employees specifically, and more information can be found here.
3. Put a Carbon Reduction Plan in place. This one isn’t optional if you regularly bid for large public sector contracts. From 1st October 2021 every bid you submit will need to include a Carbon Reduction Plan, detailing your emissions and how you plan to reduce them. There’s a template to help you do this here.
4. Visit the UK Business Climate Hub to make a similar, small business-friendly commitment to reaching net-zero emissions.
5. Check out the AMAZING tool on the SME Climate Hub’s website which is FULL of practical steps and ideas for ways businesses in sectors as diverse as food, transports and agriculture can become more sustainable.
6. Book a free Google Garage session to get ideas for improving your sustainability here.
Chatham House is a policy and think tank which helps people, societies, and governments understand and adapt to seismic change, providing thought leadership on key issues for over 100 years. In the 21st Century their mission is to continue to offer solutions to global challenges and actively seek to empower the next generation to change their world.
Throughout 2020 and 2021 Chatham House has been organising monthly briefings to discuss the most pressing climate issues with UK and international government officials and experts. These briefings have covered a range of pertinent topics, including climate finance, adaptation and resilience, the energy transition, and the shifting politics of the UN climate negotiations. They have also produced a podcast – the Climate Briefing – which follows the themes of the diplomatic briefings for people who aren’t diplomats!
Explore the COP26 University Network briefing material
Tune in to our latest podcast series, which brings together the best minds preparing for COP26. Each podcast further explores the topics in our COP26 Universities Network briefing papers. This network consists of a group of more than 55 UK Universities, coordinated by The Grantham Institute, working together to support ambitious outcomes for climate action at COP26 and beyond.
This first appeared in the October edition of the Social Value Files. To receive more, sign up for the Social Value Files, a monthly round up of all things Social Value covering jobs, events, and original think pieces.