Like the climate crisis itself, the headlines coming out of COP26 have been hard to ignore. For almost three decades, world governments have come together at COP to forge a global response to the climate emergency and find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This year’s event, which took place in Glasgow, couldn’t have come at a more crucial time. John Kerry called the summit “the last best hope” to keep global temperatures within the 1.5C target of the Paris Agreement. And after a year of deadly wildfires and floods in many parts of the world, there is little doubt left that climate change is here and is touching all corners of the Earth.
But after two weeks of promises, pledges and protests, will this year’s conference translate into tangible action on climate change? And importantly, what does it mean for the business community?
Here are three key takeaways from COP26:
- The drive to net zero is a business imperative. While there was criticism over some of the wording in the Glasgow Climate Pact – notably around coal – COP26 stood out for producing the very first climate deal that explicitly stated fossil fuel consumption as a primary driver of climate change. The evidence is clear, and every business should be prioritizing a net-zero strategy that is tied to science-based targets and focused on GHG reductions across the entire value chain.
- Action is meaningless without urgency. Many climate activists, media, and delegates expressed anger and frustration with the lack of urgency detailed in the final commitments of COP26. For them, winning slowly was still losing. This year’s COP has taught us that pledges made 20, 30, or 40 years into the future are not enough. The climate emergency is not the next generation’s problem to fix and stakeholders want to know what companies are doing today. So, what can organizations do to better express their understanding of the urgency and how they’re working to address it? Telling stakeholders what you have done or are already doing is far more powerful than talking about what you will do – building trust relies on a regular drumbeat of open and honest communications rather than choosing a single moment in time to garner support for long-term commitments.
- Make it mainstream. Solving the climate crisis is not a straightforward task, and requires collaboration between governments, corporations and, of course, us – the world’s citizens. Yet the organizers of this year’s COP were criticised for failing to educate the wider public on why the issues discussed at the conference mattered to them. For climate action to work, it must go mainstream. For business leaders and communicators, that means breaking out of our ‘green’ echo chambers to make climate action accessible, inclusive – and above all else – the easy choice.
According to Porter Novelli’s latest research, 73 percent of Americans are more concerned than ever before about the impacts of the climate crisis, and 80 percent believe companies have a responsibility to solve it. Thirty years of COP conferences have shown that political negotiations can only take us so far, and in this era of high expectations and even higher stakes, closing the say-do gap on climate action has never been more important for the private sector. The hard work lies ahead but this is the moment to bring your stakeholders along with you on the journey, use your voice to influence others and, in the words of Sir David Attenborough, “turn tragedy into triumph.”