Below please find key take-outs from our February 23rd panel with the Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, President of COP26; John Pettigrew, CEO of National Grid and Principle Partner for COP26; Teneo Senior Advisor Amber Rudd; and chaired by Principal of Teneo’s Situations and Politics practice and former Downing Street Director of Politics and Communications, Craig Oliver.
- COP26 will only be the beginning. All panellists agreed that COP26 itself, whilst an important event, will only be the start of a transformational journey for countries and businesses across the world. The ambitious targets expected to be agreed at COP26 will lead to a slew of regulation and legislation requiring countries and businesses to make dramatic changes to their operating models in order to meet these targets. Companies should be examining how they operate now, in order to ensure they are fully equipped to respond and prosper within the new reality.
- The expectation to change is high across all stakeholders. Our panellists highlighted that 5-10 years ago, climate change and sustainability were rarely priority concerns of investors or other external stakeholders. Today, there is clear consensus among all stakeholder groups – from investors, to customers, to employees – that business is expected to take the issue seriously and provide a clear and credible approach to sustainability. Those who don’t will pay a heavy price, both reputationally and financially. In addition to greater shareholder value and an improved license to operate, our panellists also highlighted the humanitarian expectation on leaders today: taking action now will safeguard the future of our children, grandchildren and wider society.
- It is clear that we are heading in an irrevocable direction towards greater sustainability, and those who refuse to join in will get left behind. 2020 was the greenest year in history, with 53% of energy coming from zero-carbon sources. And last summer, the UK went for two months without burning any coal. As technology continues to drive this progress, we should expect this pace of change to accelerate. Future UN climate summits will look to build on the agreements made in Glasgow in November and the smart, forward-thinking companies will be the ones who look ahead to how they plan to manage their businesses in the next 5-10 years.
- COP26 itself will provide business, civil society and academic institutions an opportunity to showcase what they are doing to help the world achieve the goal of Net Zero. In particular, the COP26 team are looking for examples of collaboration on sustainability, such as between corporates and civil society. The application deadline for those who wish to exhibit at the event in Glasgow closes on 8th March. Meanwhile, significant efforts are being made to ensure that the event itself is as sustainable as possible, for example, by providing electric and low-emission public transport services for delegates and visitors to the city.
- Finally, the panel addressed concerns raised over the costs to individuals of playing their own part in helping reduce their carbon footprint, such as buying electric cars and alternative heating sources. They said that whilst costs for some green initiatives currently remain high, advances in offshore wind and solar power have down how these costs are likely to fall. As the cost of electric cars also fall, businesses such as National Grid are committed to increasing the availability of electric vehicle charging points across the country. Overall, the panel were confident that by 2050, advances in technology will have had a material impact on these costs, helping ensure they become the norm, rather than the exception.