To start the ‘road to COP26’, H+K London was joined by a panel of experts from the world of climate policy, politics, and business to provide a practical guide for brands looking to engage with the summit. Featuring Maya Freedman (COP26), Tom Burke (E3G), Nick Mabey (E3G), and Chris Pratt (H+K London), the session set the scene for the significance of the conference and what to expect. 

 This November, Glasgow will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). While a COP event happens every year, COP26 is particularly important – the most significant since 2015’s game-changing Paris Agreement. 

 While the Paris Conference centred around a classic negotiation over diplomatic text and getting the treaty passed, this year’s Summit will focus on implementing that agreement. Attending nations were expected to show delivery on climate action and mark progress, however COVID-19 has changed the game again; this year will now be as much about the adjudication of what’s happened since the start of the pandemic. Since COP26 was shifted from late 2020 to 2021, it is now expected to achieve more than last year – and in different locations. 

 The pandemic has done more than just shift the date of the conference; it has ignited the start of a European economic recovery phase (which will certainly involve green investment packages), welcomed the return of the US as a climate actor under the Biden administration, and means that the COP hosts of the UK and Italy will now have the events of G7 and G20 lead into the main event 

 With a greater scope than before and increased political attention, perhaps there is a better chance of more transformative climate action. However, leaders will certainly be wary of what will be a crowded political year; there is a risk of being lost in the theatre of big summits and Zoom diplomacy, there being words over action, and difficulty aligning over video calls. 

Nick Mabey, CEO and Founding Director of E3G, has unique experience with advising the COP President on the delivery of the Summit and supporting the UK and EU governments on delivering climate strategy. He shares three key factors influencing this year’s conference and its chances of success: 

Geopolitics
The politics of Paris rested on a G2 pre-agreement between the US and China, however the tensions created by the Trump era means that type of cosy pre-deal won’t happen this time. The best outcome of this would be the US and China competing to be the best and most radical climate actor – and we’ll want to see ambition and action on fossil fuels in their 2030 targets. 

 Money
We expect the G7 and G20 will play Green Recovery strongly, with a focus on the growing demand for green products. But that’s for those with access to capital markets; those cut off don’t have the access to invest in green technology and risk progress. This year’s IMF and World Bank meetings might be an answer, if they provide more financial firepower to countries to make those investments. And reform is the final piece – with a push on reforming the overall financial system to align with Paris, including a phasing out of subsidies for fossil fuels and real progress on disclosure and regulation. 

 Climate ambitions
The UK has already talked about this being a net-zero Summit, working to get solid commitments to net-zero by 2050 or 2060 for the whole G20. With over 70% of the global economy committed to this by the mid-century, there is now a focus on non-state actors to make their commitments to the race to zero. This is the entry ticket to COP, not the outcome. 2050 goals are not enough to deliver success – what will people deliver in the short term in the 2020s? 

Crucially, the mark of success for COP26 is addressing the question of will leaders, investors, and the public around the world think we’ve gripped the problem of climate change and is the framework of Paris keeping them safe? 

 There will certainly be a lot of attention on the outcomes of the Summit; with more climate writers than ever before and significant protest activity planned to coincide, the event’s optics will be under mass scrutiny. 

 So, if non-state groups are expected to step up to the climate plate, how can businesses be involved? Maya Freedman, Head of Business Engagement and Sponsorship for COP26, shared her practical insights – emphasising that there is a large concern around inclusivity and making sure diverse voices are represented. A key ask is getting organisations – big and small – to join the race to zero and share plans with credible actions.

When it comes to the event itself, it is the Green Zone (delivered by the UK Presidency) that will be ideal for brands. Delegates from the public, business, and art will help demonstrate the power of the sustainability conversation; the submission process for event proposals is open until 5th March. Meanwhile, the run-up to the Summit will also be an important journey and a chance to establish foundations for future discussions. The team are eager for ideas and suggestions through #TogetherForOurPlanet, while sponsorship opportunities are also available. 

Finally, Tom Burke, Chairman and Founding Director of E3G, shared an overview of some of the forces shaping the political conversation around COP26 – with three factors to keep in mind when evaluating what it means for brands and individuals:  

  1. Climate events validate the climate discussion in the public mind. Scientific reports are shared in advance and will inspire an increase in public activity and engagement. 
  1. The costs of renewables have gone down by more than anyone expected. This has lowered the political risk for governments, while the high levels of protest action and conversation have increased the risk of not acting. 
  1. Since Paris, central bankers have got involved. The rules of public and private capital are being reallocated. Climate risk function will be factored into the price of capital – which is a completely new change.

Many thanks again to our speakers and guests for an insightful, actionable conversation. To find out more about how COP26 will impact businesses and brands, as well as the wider sustainability discussion in general, please get in touch with Chris Pratt, MD of Better Impact, at chris.pratt@hkstrategies.com.  

We will also be hosting several more events in the runup to COP26 – to register your interest, please email info.london@hkstrategies.com.