COP26 Reflection: Too Little, Too Late?

Student fixing in the wall a poster about environmental issues – There is no planet B

Reflecting on COP26 with colleagues brings mixed emotions and feelings. Discussing the conference pre-COP, we discussed our hopes and fears. As four young people aged <25 with mixed backgrounds, we all hoped the summit would bring fundamental change, but feared that it would bring too little too late as world leaders arrived in their private jets to Glasgow.

Climate change has starkly different implications for different people

Andrea Ixchíu attended the summit with a Guatemalan and Mexican delegation of indigenous peoples, and described COP26 as:

“A negotiation between rich and powerful people. The voices of indigenous communities haven’t been heard.”

Andrea Ixchíu

Climate change, sustainability and net zero bring starkly different concerns for different people. For large corporates, sustainability may be top of the CSR agenda, and may prioritise reaching ‘net zero by 2050’, whether this be through buying carbon credits or sourcing green energy. For the small island nations in the Pacific, such as Tuvalu, the reality of climate change may mean rising sea levels that come at a human cost.

While intangible for some, the threat of displacement is already a reality for others, and it is predicted that ~1.2 billion people could be displaced by climate-related events by 2050. If our current focus is not on the human cost of climate change, then we are fortunate, but we must do better.

protester holding up a Protest sign saying 'There is no planet B'

Supporting the race to Net Zero brings opportunities for businesses

Following the COP26 summit, half of the UK’s largest businesses have committed to stop their contributions to climate change by 2050. Committing to sustainable targets may be viewed as a monumental task and a chore for some. Rather these targets should be viewed as huge opportunities. Shifting the perspective to consider new markets and commercial opportunities will accelerate the race to net zero.

The opportunities for businesses are widespread, and to name a few:

  • Renewable energy generation brings opportunities for green infrastructure
  • More jobs in sustainable industries will support the Covid recovery
  • The unlocked potential of hydrogen is exciting and poses undiscovered opportunities
  • Sustainability is increasingly important to young talent, and will play a role when graduates are choosing businesses to apply to
protester holding up a Protest sign saying 'No business on a dead planet'

Businesses have a duty to play leading roles

While committing to doing better is an opportunity for businesses, it is also arguably their duty. The biggest emitting countries and companies may also have the most opportunities to enact tangible change, so must pledge more ambitious targets. Businesses have a huge role to play in this, and their legacies and reputation increasingly depend on genuine commitments to protecting the planet. As the United Representative of Tanzania summed up:

“We will be remembered by our action, but we will also be remembered by our inaction”

United Representative of Tanzania

Business leaders are in strong positions to fulfil these opportunities. When making decisions, you can;

  • Pledge genuine commitments to the environment
  • Make it easy for employees to ‘be green’ at work
  • Make decisions with the next 100 years in mind, not the next 10
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