If the 2015 COP21 in Paris was the “political COP”, then COP26 in 2021 was the “business COP”. While the commitments of national leaders will continue to dominate the headlines, this year’s COP26 saw much more of a corporate showing than previously, and Airmic was invited to attend in Glasgow.
Representatives of the business world showed up to Glasgow in force and made greater net zero commitments than ever before. Leading the charge in Glasgow has been the former governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, who serves as the UK Prime Minister’s Finance Advisor for COP26 and UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance.
While governments can legislate change, there is increased recognition that businesses are the economic engine to implement national targets for climate action. As one speaker noted during the event: “Governments commit the billions, but businesses can mobilise the trillions.”
Glasgow’s role as one of the birthplaces of the industrial revolution meant there was no more fitting location for business to engage with its responsibilities in fixing the climate crisis.
Airmic’s research manager Hoe-Yeong Loke attended events hosted for the business community at COP26, including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) International Business Dinner, held on 4 November, an event focused on business and government partnering for the race to net zero.
John Kerry, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, was guest keynote speaker at the dinner. Kerry, a former US Secretary of State, has attended every landmark COP summit since Rio 1992, alongside political allies such as Al Gore.
Kerry stressed that “the American people never gave up on the Paris Agreement,” signed at COP21, even when President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement in 2017. Kerry emphasised that he and others in the US political scene found ways, whenever possible, such as at state governor level, for the US to keep to its climate commitments.
However, he also stressed the importance of more tense relations between the US and China on the climate crisis, relative to the situation in 2015. Stronger relations between former US President Barack Obama, under whom Kerry served as Secretary of State, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, helped get a good result from COP21 in Paris. The Chinese leader was absent from COP26 in Glasgow.
Despite this Kerry noted that the US delegation had been in close negotiations with China in the weeks leading up to COP26, and engaged in negotiations in London the week before the Glasgow event.
That would appear to have paid off. Towards the end of COP26, the US and China surprised all delegates when they issued a joint declaration on boosting climate cooperation over the next decade.
Working with Government
The CBI held two hustings events on 4 November to make its case to world leaders and negotiators. The focus of this was on sustainable finance and green energy. It included some demands for what businesses need governments to do: primarily to set and ensure a level playing field on issues such as carbon pricing; and to take a lead on public-private investment collaboration.
Businesses need clear standards and frameworks from government, the CBI emphasised, while noting that the government wants to hear from businesses, such as on how best to mobilise the finance already pledged to realise the climate commitments.
Business perception of climate risk has transformed within the past five years, noted CBI chief executive Tony Danker. He said that climate issues had gone from being seen primarily as a reputational risk, to becoming acknowledged as a prominent threat on the risk register, while a proactive stance is now recognised as a business opportunity.
Businesses should take every opportunity to engage with the government on climate issues where possible, the CBI urged. The UK Government, represented at the CBI event by John Glen, Economic Secretary to HM Treasury, said it would streamline the compliance requirements on sustainability disclosures into a single return.
Be the difference
“Climate action is now at a critical juncture where businesses must step up to ‘be the difference that makes the difference’,” said Hoe-Yeong Loke, research manager at Airmic, who attended the CBI business gatherings at COP26.
“Having stepped up to the challenge during the pandemic, Airmic members are well placed to navigate businesses through the climate crisis. We are planning next year’s technical agenda to help equip them to this end.”
This article is an adapted version from an original published as Airmic's contribution to the latest issue of CIR Magazine, which you can find, here.