When the 26th UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP26) kicks off at the end of this month, politicians, policy makers, activists and business people will all meet with a single shared goal – tackling the global climate change crisis. There will be much to discuss to ensure progress against the commitments made in the Paris Agreement at COP21 in 2015.
The focus of COP26 is to deliver decisive action and, to aid this, discussions over the two-week summit will revolve around achieving four major goals. They are:
1. Secure global net zero emissions by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach.
This is a stretching target but it is crucial to keeping global average temperature rises low. To keep an average increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius (compared with pre-industrial levels) within reach, nations need to accelerate their plans towards decarbonisation. Action plans will need to go much further and faster towards phasing out coal, curtailing deforestation, speeding up the switch to electric vehicles and encouraging investment in renewables.
2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats.
Staggeringly, it’s been reported that the UK only has about half of its biodiversity left – way below the global average of 75%. The analysis, released by the Natural History Museum ahead of last week’s UN Biodiversity Conference COP15, brings this goal of COP26 into focus. Delivering change will involve protecting and restoring ecosystems, plus investment in building storm and flood defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid loss of homes and livelihoods.
Last week the Environment Agency warned us to “adapt or die“, highlighting the very real and inevitable consequences of climate change on our doorsteps in England. In its Third Adaptation Report, the Environment Agency warned:
- Summer rainfall is projected to decrease by 22% and winter rainfall is expected to increase by 13% by the 2080s.
- The number of properties on the floodplain in England is expected to double by 2065.
- Four million people and £200 billion of assets are at risk of flooding from rivers or sea.
- 3 million properties are at risk of surface water flooding where no early warnings are available.
- 40 million early warning messages sent for river and sea flooding over the past 10 years.
3. Green finance
The UN wants to mobilise finance. Raising the necessary funds requires developed countries to make good on their promise to mobilise at least $100 billion in climate finance per year. International financial institutions are also being called upon to help unleash the trillions in private and public sector finance required to secure global net zero.
4. Work together to deliver
Collaboration is key to addressing the climate crisis by working together. The Paris Rulebook (the rules needed to implement the Paris Agreement) is to be finalised at this COP and there is a focus on accelerating action through collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society.
The role of business in creating change
When it comes to climate change there are no second chances. COP26 presents a window of opportunity to build on the progress made by the Paris Agreement, catalyse change and ensure countries go much further to achieving climate change goals.
The first step to being part of the solution is recognising the issues and being alive to how they affect your business. That’s why it’s important for companies and organisations to take note of COP26 and understand how the actions discussed will likely influence your stakeholders, consumer demand and the direction of your strategy.
Are you ready for COP26? To help you keep on top of all the highlights, our cross-firm legal team of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) experts will be closely following the summit. We expect some important announcements and more clarity on the changes needed to ensure climate change goals are met. That’s why we’ll be sharing our thoughts on what businesses and the public sector could be doing now in their approach to ESG matters.
About the author(s)
Ben Stansfield is one the UK's leading lawyers practising planning and environmental law. Ben is based in Gowling WLG's London office and brings with him a wealth of experience advising clients on the consenting and regulation of their projects and their compliance with environmental regulations and reporting standards.