Tag: COP26

We’re just days away from the beginning of the delayed and much anticipated COP26, hosted this year in Glasgow. With the eyes of the world on this landmark event – which has been heralded as ‘humanity’s last chance’ to combat the climate crisis – we’re dedicating our October edition of Industry Insights to exploring some of COP’s many facets. We’ll look at what COP is, what the hopes and fears are for COP26, what we need this event to achieve and how you and your business can get involved.

What is COP26?

COP26 is the 26th annual Conference of the Parties, in which the UN brings together almost every country on earth for a global climate summit. Since the first COP nearly three decades ago, general interest and awareness of climate change has increased significantly, moving from a fringe issue to a global priority.

COP offers an opportunity for heads of state and government, along with businesses and citizens, to engage in 12 days of climate talks. They will examine the latest climate science, work to reach consensus about action that must be taken to protect our world and adapt to irreversible impacts of climate change, and to commit to bold action.

At COP21, which took place in Paris in 2015, every country agreed to work together to limit global warming to ‘well below’ 2 degrees (and aim for 1.5 degrees), to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate and to provide the money needed to deliver these aims. This unprecedented unity became known as The Paris Agreement.

Under this agreement, countries committed to developing national plans to outline how they would reduce their emissions – known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Every 5 years, each country must come back with an updated plan that reflects their highest possible ambition at the time. COP26 – which should have taken place in 2020 but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic – is the first summit at which these updated plans will be delivered. This year’s conference has been referred to as our ‘best last chance’ to tackle the climate crisis, limit global warming and effectively adapt to climate impacts already being felt around the world. Momentous as The Paris Agreement was, the commitments it contained have not come close to limiting warming to 1.5 degrees – and we are running out of time to achieve this.

COP Commentary – what are people saying about the summit?

Amongst the cries of ‘last best chance’, there is a hefty dose of scepticism around COP26. Just last week, major corporate sponsors publicly criticised the summit as being severely mismanaged, with some voicing that everything seemed ‘very last minute’. There is also concern around the fact that of the four big emitters of greenhouse gasses (GHG) – China, the USA, Russia and India – only the heads of state and government for the USA (and possibly India) have agreed to attend COP26 at all.

In addition to major players missing from the table, criticisms of the event’s management, and underrepresentation of Pacific island nations, there is also already a very real concern that one of the core objectives of the summit – keeping the 1.5 degree target within reach – is simply not possible. Some argue that we’ve already hit that ceiling with the emissions currently in our atmosphere and that even with radical reduction in future emissions, the damage is done. Even if the damage has not been done, there is still a notable lack of ambition from parties around the world. At the time of writing, there are 143 new or updated NDCs available. Taking account of these new plans alongside the existing commitments of the remaining 49 countries involved, a UN update indicates that we are likely to see a “sizeable increase” in GHG emissions – up about 16% in 2030 compared to 2019 – which could result in a temperature increase of around 2.7 degrees by the end of the century. A far cry from our ‘last chance’ target of 1.5.

Based on this, we must hope that COP26 will provide the catalyst for countries to come forward and amend their commitments to be much more ambitious – something that can be done at any time, including during negotiations.

Why we should still look to COP26 with hope and optimism

The commentary and concerns indicated above feel like a real blow for the conference and it would be easy – even understandable – to throw up our hands in despair and say ‘what’s the point’. But it is absolutely essential that we don’t do that. We must dare to hope, dare to dream, dare to demand better from our leaders.

If we have already hit a ceiling that leads to irreversible damage, then we must mobilise finance, innovation and imagination for global adaptation – ensuring this includes sufficient support for the most vulnerable nations and communities to adapt effectively. If scientific analysis shows that current commitments are not ambitious enough to limit global warming as far as possible, then we must overhaul them, recognising with rationality and humanity that our foremost priority is our duty of care to this world and all its people.

We may not be the voices around the table, but we can hold those who are to account. If as individuals, businesses and communities we are persistent and vocal in our expectations of our leaders, we demonstrate popular support for climate action. We show collective commitment to safeguarding our planet. We give those at the negotiating table a clear mandate for united, equitable action.

For the construction industry, COP26 will signal what the landscape might look like going forward. What kind of infrastructure will be needed to meet renewed targets? How will the balance between mitigation and adaptation play out? Construction is a mighty player on the field when it comes to climate action – quite literally holding the tools and technology to build a better future. How we build, what we build, where and when we build holds the power and potential to contribute significantly to both the reduction of GHG emissions and to adapting to climatic impacts. And so, as an industry, we must be relentlessly hopeful – radically optimistic – because we have the means to make ambitious targets a reality.

How to get involved in COP26

You don’t have to be in Glasgow to get involved in the summit – the beauty of our digital age means you, and your business, can participate wherever you are.

  • Make sure to take a look at the full COP26 Presidency Programme, which outlines the summit’s themes for each day.
  • Take to social media and follow COP26 on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. Join in the discussions by following (and using) the hashtags #TogetherForOurPlanet #OneStepGreener #COP26 and #RaceToZero. You might want to simply engage with official content shared by the summit channels and commentators, or you might choose to produce your own content – you could create posts that reflect each day’s theme in a way that is relevant to you or your business.
  • Attend virtual events that are running as part of COP26 – or have been organised to coincide with it. The COP26 Built Environment Virtual Pavilion promises to be an excellent exhibition and events series, showcasing innovative, sustainable solutions and projects within the built environment. It’s also worth seeing what’s going on in your local area – for example, in our neck of the woods, Stockport Council are hosting the first ever Stockport CAN (Climate Action Now) summit on 9th November, bringing together the local authority, businesses, young people and community to explore and celebrate climate action in the area. (We’ll be speaking as part of the panel during the business segment of the day and launching our impact report!).

Beyond COP26

The formal role of the summit is to finalise the ‘Paris Rulebook’: find solutions to enable greater ambition in mitigation and adaptation; resolve issues around reporting and finance, ensuring all countries meet their commitments; and brokering agreement between all parties that keeps the 1.5 degree target alive. But COP26 alone is not going to deliver all that is needed.

The summit is undoubtedly important and will hopefully galvanise increased climate action around the world. But it doesn’t begin and end with COP. We each have to think beyond the conference’s 12 day window and identify what we can do – at work and at home – to play our part in protecting the future of our planet.

Does your business have an environmental policy? When was it last updated? Is it ambitious? What more could be done? If you own or run a business, look seriously at your organisational commitments to sustainability and identify where you could do more. If you’re an employee, ask the question of your employer – and if an answer isn’t forthcoming, work with your colleagues and managers to identify what can be done about that. When working with clients, have the climate as a key consideration in project decisions – from design, through specification to building and operational processes – and sell the business benefits of climate positive decisions! Lower operational costs, higher asset value, happier healthier workforces and occupants, increased customer loyalty, improved reputation – the list goes on and on.

Whatever happens at COP26, some will laud it a resounding success and others decry it as a shambles. Regardless of the conference outcomes, we have the power and the opportunity to drive for change. Let’s greet COP26 with enthusiasm and optimism, vocal in our hope that the world’s leaders will do right by people and planet. But let’s also take it upon ourselves to lead by example, doing what we can and must to protect our world.

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Industry Insights – October 2021: Spotlight on COP26

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