COP26: The Last Chance to Avert Climate Chaos?

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Stay Up to Date with All the Latest from COP26 with NUS Sustainability

Our sustainability team will be observing and analysing the outcomes, opportunities, and obligations from the COP26 negotiations at every stage of the journey. Make sure to look out for regular updates over the next two weeks to get all the key insight from COP26 action.

The Importance and Impact of COP26

To address and tackle the world's climate crisis, the UN Climate Change Conference has brought together almost every nation on earth to participate in worldwide climate summits, known as COPs ('Conference of the Parties'). From 31 October – 12 November 2021, the UK will host the 26th annual summit (COP26) in Glasgow, as world leaders, scientific experts, delegates, and campaigners come together to negotiate and formalise updated carbon reduction commitments and sustainability plans. With climate change coming to the very forefront of political, commercial, and social discourse over the last 18 months, all eyes will turn to the Scottish city to see if a new and fit-for-purpose, binding agreement to avert climate chaos can be achieved.

In the words of naturalist and COP26 People's Advocate, David Attenborough:

"There could not be a more important moment that we should have international agreement. The epidemic has shown us how crucial it is to find agreement among nations if we are to solve such worldwide problems. But the problems that await us within the next 5-10 years are even greater."

The legacy of COP26 will be dependent upon its ability to assure that all countries agree to adopt science-aligned, carbon reduction trajectories, supported by the immediate and sustainable implementation of decarbonisation measures.

Building on the Paris Agreement

COP21 took place in Paris in 2015 and secured international acclaim as the first time every country agreed to work cooperatively to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees (with the aim for 1.5 degrees), adapt to the impacts of climate change, and introduce financial mechanisms to deliver on these goals. The breakthrough declaration termed the "Paris Agreement" is the leading international treaty governing countries' responsibilities to reducing emissions through national plans known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

The Paris Agreement also incorporated an approach for countries to revise plans every five years to reflect the highest possible ambition. COP26 is the time for governments to update their climate change plans and goals. The current commitments under the Paris Agreement are not sufficient in limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees, meaning that the outcomes of the negotiations in Glasgow over the next two weeks are crucial.

COP26 Goals and Ambitions

Secure Global Net-Zero by Mid-century and keep 1.5 Degrees within Reach

To ensure the ultimate aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, nations will be required to adopt and implement revised ambitions and targets for 2030, ensuring that reduction targets align with a net-zero trajectory by 2050 (at the very latest). Key mechanisms to reach this target will require aggressive action on:

  • Accelerating the phase-out of coal and transitioning to zero-carbon energy generation,
  • Curtailing deforestation while promoting afforestation and sustainable land management,
  • Speeding up the electrification of vehicles and commercial/industrial processes, and
  • Encouraging investment in renewables and low-carbon technologies.

Adapt to Protect Communities and Natural Habitats

With climate change already impacting peoples' lives, natural resources, and corporate activity, adapting to new environments will play a key role in enabling global stability. COP26 will need to ensure that countries work together to protect and restore ecosystems (including the prevention of damaging land-use change) and build resilient infrastructure to avoid loss and damage to livelihoods, property, and the ability to carry out business operations.

Mobilise Finance

Achieving COP26's first two goals will require developed countries to contribute necessary climate finance on a long-term basis. In addition, financial institutions must work in partnership with corporates, the public and private sector to directly support the transition to net-zero.

Work Together to Deliver

Real outcomes can only be achieved on the international stage through proactive partnerships and working together. The success of COP26 will be based on the ability to secure required carbon reduction efforts and strong collaboration between governments, corporates, and wider society to enable prompt and long-term decarbonisation solutions.

The Role of Corporates

Meeting climate change objectives will be reliant upon small, medium, and large corporates from all sectors and industries taking a leading role in decarbonising their scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. Many organisations have been active in this area adopting voluntary standards such as the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi). The SBTi, which recently published a world-first Net-Zero Standard, acts to ensure that companies reduce emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement and the latest climate science requirements. With more stringent targets and timeframes likely to come out of COP26, corporates will be under increased pressure to account for their entire value-chain GHG emissions and develop roadmaps to achieve a verifiable net-zero standard.

Kick-Start Your Journey to Net-Zero

NUS Consulting Group's global sustainability division works with domestic and international businesses to support them in their sustainability journey. Our team is currently providing specialised advice to a host of businesses across the manufacturing, chemicals, real estate, and food and drink industries to produce and implement (SBTi-aligned) Net-Zero Strategies. For more information on how we can help you navigate the world of carbon footprinting and Net-Zero Strategies to showcase your carbon reduction commitments, contact us for an initial consultation with one of our sustainability experts.

More: Research Notes, COP26, Net-Zero, Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi), Sustainability

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David Carlyon