‘Coals, cars, cash and trees’ is the latest rhetorical flourish to come from Number 10, but with just under two months to go until the COP26 climate summit, evidence of concrete action from governments around the world appears few and far between. Coupled with the damning reception to reports that COP President-Designate Alok Sharma flew to 30 countries in just seven months, the UK Government clearly has some way to go before they are able to achieve an international consensus in November.
Environmental action is no longer the proverbial can for the Government to kick down the road. Stark images of uncontrollable wildfires in Turkey and Greece are tangible and hard to ignore, and this is filtering through to the public’s political consciousness. A shrewd populist, Boris Johnson will be keen to respond to this increased awareness and we may see political support begin to intensify domestically, bolstered by the long-awaited publication of the UK’s comprehensive Net Zero Strategy – which is expected before COP26.
However, public and political concern does not necessarily translate to concrete action and the world’s top diplomats face some major hurdles at the negotiating tables in November. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) on the impacts of global warming stated starkly and unequivocally that human activity is changing the climate in monumental and irreversible ways, and now global pressure is mounting to achieve an international consensus in November. Thus far it has been challenging to pinpoint the exact intention of such a consensus, but there has been a consistent recognition of the critical need to “keep 1.5°C alive” – the current target for increases in temperature as set out in the Paris Accord – particularly in light of the IPCC’s report. Sharma has emphasised that the incoming Presidency will explore options for how the ‘Glasgow outcome’ will respond to any gap in 2030 ambition, including exploring the proposal for a roadmap towards keeping 1.5°C in reach.
Climate change is the looming threat to both our economy and society. Whether or not international consensus is achieved to the necessary extent in Glasgow, there will inevitably be an influx of new regulation in the UK and in nations across the globe. Business leaders must engage with policies that help countries to deliver on their emissions targets while protecting jobs, preventing energy poverty, and further driving economic growth. COP26 allows businesses to get an early insight into the direction of such regulation allowing them to work collaboratively towards a better future.
The sheer scale of climate change presents both business risk and opportunity. Companies that follow this year’s COP – and all ensuing summits – will have a competitive advantage, staying ahead of emerging trends and keeping informed of regulation and innovation.
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