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COP26 insights and observations

By Forster Communications

What do the last two weeks mean for the next 12 months – and looking beyond the headlines – how can we accelerate climate action and keep 1.5C alive? We asked the team at Forster and a range of experts in our network for their insights and observations on COP26 and here’s what they said:

Boards need to take bold investment decisions

As the world digests the outcomes from COP26, it is obvious that the combined commitments of governments and sectoral coalitions, while a substantial step forward, are not enough to prevent catastrophic climate impacts. We will need greater ambition, and the COP commitments will have to be turned into action, with business taking the lead.

Looking at the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ)’s commitment of up to $130tn of private capital to meet net zero emissions targets by 2050, it’s also clear that money is not the main issue.

With businesses deeply involved in COP as never before, and companies large and small embracing the race to zero, it is essential that boards take bold investment decisions to direct this capital where it will have most impact.

Collaboration across value chains and non-competitive partnerships will be critical to mobilise money at the pace needed. Because non-executive directors frequently sit on several boards, often in very different sectors, they are well-positioned to help push for clear plans and rapid action.

At Chapter Zero we are seeing a new wave of engaged, influential and committed non-executive directors who are ready to take on this challenge, because they know that their businesses have everything to gain from the transition to net zero and much to lose if we fail.

Julie Baddeley, Chair of the Board, Chapter Zero

Deeper scrutiny of offsets

We were pleased that António Guterres announced that there will be new scrutiny by experts of offsets markets. This is supported by the launch of the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) Net-Zero Standard offering a trusted guide for companies to reach net-zero. They have new criteria focused on ‘rapid, deep emission cuts.’ This means that a business has only considered to have reached net-zero when it has achieved its long-term science-based target. Most companies will be required to have long-term targets with emission reductions of at least 90-95% by 2050. Green Element and Compare Your Footprint were part of the consultation of SBTI’s Standard, via our Strategist Emma Littlewood, and we recommend that all our clients set science-based targets to avoid the reputational risks associated with claiming net-zero based on heavy offsets and keep us under 1.5c. It is also important for businesses to be aware that both offsets and carbon credits are resulting in climate injustice, such as land grabs and eviction of indigenous peoples.

Will Richardson, CEO & Founder, Green Element

Inclusion of Scope 3 separates progressive business from the rest

Whilst there were gains to include coal and fossil fuels in the text of COP26 for the first time, we all saw the disappointment about the compromises made, from Alok Sharma to the activists outside. Emergency language was missing in the text. Public opinion is demanding action in an emergency. Business needs to lead the way by signalling commitment to this emergency with its customers and suppliers. As Business Declares we welcome this renewed energy and awareness.

It is clear this COP 26 sent a signal on the energy transition, which the markets will pick up in carbon pricing. Business can review investment portfolios, as well as energy transition. Progress was made with 450 finance organisations signing up to GFANZ.

The importance of scope 3 emissions was underlined and being an influencer to the supply chain through collaborating with others. As a member of Race to Zero, we welcome the verification of net zero targets becoming more stringent. The strong focus on nature-based solutions is also an opportunity to make sure that a business balances CO2 reduction with a focus on restoring nature, and that any nature based projects work with and respect indigenous people’s rights and leadership.

Fiona Ellis, Director, Business Declares

Numbers must add up

What started as a quirky conversation with BBC Radio 4’s political correspondent Adam Fleming about the carbon footprint of a locally sourced bacon sandwich at COP26 being lower than that of the croissant, ended up exposing errors in the menu labelling system and the fact that the croissant was actually a vegan one but had been given the all-butter carbon count. It is a small example of a bigger question – what numbers do you trust? COP26 has unleashed an unprecedented amount of targets from countries, businesses and investors, and as the focus turns to delivery the way in which information is recorded and reported will become more and more critical. Global systems such as the International Sustainability Standards Board are going to be crucial but will take time to set up. It is up to each organisation to make sure that their numbers are transparent, comparable and add up to action.

Amanda Powell-Smith, Chief Executive, Forster Communications

Recharging civil society

Big business got inside COP but civil society was kept firmly out of the tent, as they have been in most debate and action so far around what individual organisations can do to combat climate change. Businesses could join the Race to Zero to demonstrate their commitment in this area but charities have no formal equivalent. Charities will play a central role in keeping the pressure on to meet new climate action commitments while at the same time needing to demonstrate leadership in how they increase their own environmental sustainability.

Peter Gilheany, Charity Director, Forster

The opportunity for charity leaders

At ACEVO we believe in inclusive, ambitious and inspiring leadership, which is values-driven and honest about the scale and challenges of problems. Unfortunately, this was not the kind of leadership we saw at COP26. Instead, we saw leaders of the wealthiest nations prioritise their own economic interests first and treat an issue which requires urgent attention as something that can be dealt with further down the line. Civil society organisations, representing groups who will be most impacted by climate breakdown, were excluded from negotiations. While we have heard that many charities who attended COP had some positive conversations, the commitments made do not go far enough, fast enough.

The climate crisis is a crisis, and requires leadership which considers the needs of those who will be hit hardest. Charity leaders have an opportunity to model this leadership, as they have done throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. I would encourage every leader to consider how the climate crisis touches their services, mission, values and community. Acting now and doing something – however small that something is – can unblock fear and apathy within teams and inspire fresh thinking about the services we deliver and the ways we work. Charity leaders seek a better world, and we must harness the renewed sense of urgency that has come out of COP to find a world which can be better for the communities and places who most need to see change.

Maisie Hulbert, Policy Officer, ACEVO

Systems change before offsetting

Behind some of the COP26 headlines, the negotiations around Article 6 of the Paris Agreement – or creation of the carbon trading framework – was one of the most detailed pieces of discussion. We need offsetting to remain controversial and a last resort but we also need whatever offsetting is done to be rigorous. The move to focus on “real, verified and additional” emissions removal is a good thing and accountability must now be locked in. This will have impact on businesses as well as countries; systems change must come before offsetting and challenges around use of will quickly increase if they are not set in a clear transition pathway.

Beth Gaudin, Senior Consultant, Forster

People matter

First person stories, activist movements, business leader putting their head above the parapet – this is what creates change and gives politicians permission to take difficult decisions. The difference between achieving 1.5C and 2C is a matter of life and death, for people and planet and this was told powerfully through voices of leaders from across the world where climate impacts are already being felt. This message is not new for those of us working at the heart of sustainability but it is now being heard beyond the bubble – and that matters. We have to keep people at the heart of climate change.

Kate Parker, Marketing Manager, Forster

Effectively channelling financial resources is core

The Glasgow Climate Pact has highlighted the important role of civil society in addressing and responding to climate change and “calls upon the private sector, multilateral banks and other financial institutions to enhance finance mobilisation in order to deliver the scale of resources needed.”

These two realisations and calls-for-action are particularly relevant to the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) since we play a unique convening role. As a committed member of civil society, our purpose is to accelerate progress toward a fair and sustainable future for all; and to do so, we work collaboratively with companies from a range of industries to enable impactful giving.

We combine our knowledge and expertise, with our range of giving vehicles to challenge our clients to commit to the in-depth transformation required to tackle climate change. We work side-by-side with our corporate client donors to be the catalyst for strategic and impactful giving to charities, non-governmental organisations and social enterprises all over the world, working to build capacity and environmental resilience in vulnerable communities, preserve biodiversity, restore ecosystems, and innovate in cutting-edge greener technologies.

Our purpose is more relevant than ever before and our commitment is to keep working tirelessly to accelerate progress in a sustainable and fair way.

Philippa Cornish, Head of Corporate Clients, Charities Aid Foundation

Expect to be exposed

The Glasgow Climate Pact has reaffirmed commitment to achieving 1.5C and reiterated the need to accelerate change before 2030. Regulation will come, pollution measures are going to be tougher and consumer choices are going to increasingly favour climate positive solutions. Businesses without a live plan to move to a low-carbon economy should expect to be called out by governments as well as media and activists.

Harry Day, Senior Consultant, Forster 

Putting a price on carbon

Public support for a carbon tax is growing, with GlobeScan finding that six in ten of the global public favour a carbon tax on energy sources that contribute most to climate change, such as coal, oil and gas – an increase of 10 points from 2015. Support for taxation that reduces carbon emissions is the highest recorded in nearly 15 years. This public support has already helped to push government policies forward; the Glasgow Climate Pact includes a framework for a global trading system of carbon offset credits and brings us closer to having a worldwide price on carbon. This will be a continued area of campaigning over the next 12 months, supported by investors as well as NGOs.

Olivia Martin, Senior Consultant, Forster

Collaboration continues

From the positive pledges around methane and deforestation, to the surprising reality of the US and China coming together to tackle climate change, to on-going examples of business collaboration including Energise – a pharmaceutical collaboration to tackle emissions in their supply chain. Learning, sharing, leapfrogging forward – working together works. Now it’s time to breakdown barriers between sectors and perspectives to look differently at the systems we have in place; to bring in lived experience alongside experts.

Sophie Marjoram, Senior Consultant, Forster

Don’t forget the SDGs

While the headlines are about climate targets, action needs to take place within context of all the Sustainable Development Goals. The good news is that SDG pin badges were being worn by many at Glasgow but the conversation is yet to really turn to how to achieve a just transition. We need to stop ESG being seen as three separate things and join up social and environmental actions. The SDGs remain the dominant framework for sustainability action.

The countdown to COP27 has begun

COP26 was a fragile win. It has hope and possibilities included but it hasn’t achieved everything. The fact that countries are being asked to bring back stronger NDCs to COP27 rather than in five year’s time is a significant achievement – and a starting bell for campaigning.