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The Significance of COP26: Expanding on Expert Insights from COP Video Series

November 19, 2021 | Insights,


As part of the “Ambitions” segment in our COP video series covering Ambition, Reality, and Impact, a few of our experts set some context for COP26, sharing insights on the significance of this moment in the history of global climate conferences and commitments, on the pressing need for action, and the role organisations can play alongside government to drive meaningful action to help realise a net zero future.

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Most countries’ current NDCs are not considered ambitious enough to hit the Paris targets. COP26 is the first ratchet year, so the first year where we will see whether countries are actually prepared to go beyond the insufficient measure they’ve committed to already and take action that is ambitious enough and is aligned with what’s actually necessary to hit the Paris Agreement and hit Net Zero by mid-century.

James Wallis, Director, Activator Strategy Team

COP’s Significance Today

The UN climate summits, or COPs are essential if we are to have any hope in combatting climate change, the ultimate global challenge that necessitates global solutions. COP has a definitive mission and invitation list offering great opportunity for progress among key global leaders. If all or most governments are pulling in the same direction, there is hope that we can achieve what we need to on the timescale that is required.

Since the Paris Agreement in 2015, the world has faced other challenges including political upheaval, shifting geopolitics, the temporary withdrawal of US from the Paris Agreement, and a global pandemic which also delayed COP26 by a year. The Paris agreement established a framework to achieve 2 degrees (or less) global warming through nationally determined contributions (NDCs), commitments that each country has established to reduce a certain quantity of emissions. Six years later, the level of those NDCs are not considered ambitious enough to hit the Paris agreement targets. In 2016, governments agreed to a ratchet to necessitate progress faster, so that every 5 years countries who participate at COP must up their commitments. This created an opportunity with COP26 for governments to go beyond their initial insufficient NDC’s to commit to action that aligns with a 2050 Net Zero pathway.

It should be noted, the previous COP summits haven’t been regarded as a success as we’ve seen decisions kicked down the road. Some of the decisions are now hitting the wall and there are high global expectations of success and progress this time around. Climate change has moved into the center of politics in many countries and has become a more central concern of large segments of society, as seen by sharp increases in citizen protesting at this year’s COP. We are at a point where climate science is widely understood, businesses are starting to address their own impact, and investors are raising their expectations. Communities are feeling the impacts of climate change, making climate adaptation a pressing issue for many countries. Most stakeholders who attended COP26 understand that the conditions were ripe for action and we hope to see ambitious action leading out of COP and in the coming years.

Ambitious Action

Governments throughout the globe must take the most ambitious pathway in wake of the IPCC’s most recent assessment report, described by UN Secretary-General António Guterres as a “Code Red for humanity” which shows irrefutable evidence of human influence on climate change. Already two years into the decisive decade, the time is now for true activation of solutions that will significantly reduce emissions across transportation, built environment, energy, and agriculture among other key high-emitting sectors. Governments and other financially wealthy institutions have a unique role to play in enabling widespread change faster than others, including:

  • Mechanisms that will include incentives and penalties along the lines of “pollution pays”.
  • Immediately available, go-to-market sustainable finance solutions to provide alternative access to funds that will be catalysts for organisations across the world to roll out programs.
  • Pension funds to adopt net zero carbon mandates as these funds are an example of something that can provide significant change.

We need to see the world commit to activation in order to achieve a net zero future.

The Role of Organisations in Decarbonisation

While many have been disappointed by the commitments that came out of COP26, having hoped for more ambitious targets and thoughtful, realistic roadmaps from governments across the world, organisations have a key role to play now. Organisations must work in parallel to governments to help decarbonise the planet. Many organisations have already set an SBT at multiple ambition levels. To move towards net zero by 2050 or sooner, organisations will have to follow the 1.5-degree ambition pathway which is net zero aligned by 2050 or sooner depending on where the baseline is set. To close the gap between SBTs and achieving a Net Zero goal, organisations should continue on the SBT reduction trajectory by avoiding emissions, electrifying where possible, reducing consumption, by investing in good quality RECs, carbon offsets, carbon removal offsets and through innovating new solutions. It’s important to note that carbon offsets are not accepted for meeting SBTs. However, you can invest in removal offsets to draw down carbon emissions equivalent to your own residual emissions if necessary to meet your Net Zero goal.

Organisations that have committed to ambitious Net Zero targets and who are cutting emissions across all Scopes are learning it’s a rapidly evolving space where partnerships and collaboration are essential. It’s important to note that climate action isn’t simply about reducing environmental impact or emissions. As we craft a collective strategy towards net zero, it’s important that we consider real life barriers and challenges – such as financial factors and the impacts on people. A key way for organisations to embed social impact into their climate strategies is through co-benefits. For example, supply chain management should include supplier diversity, local businesses, local economies, and opportunities to build programs around internal carbon pricing or even by establishing a carbon fund. The best way to consider co-benefits is to align with and leverage the UN SDGs. Prioritise your organisation’s values and mission in line with SDGs, determine which SDGs are most aligned with that mission, and maximise co-benefits wherever possible.

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