From Climate Week to COP26: Three ways we’ll get it done
Dentsu International's chief sustainability officer Anna Lungley reflects back on Climate Week and how corporates can build momentum on sustainability as COP26 approaches.
If Climate Week’s big theme was “getting it done”, as Helen Clarkson, CEO of Climate Group, put it, what does the scorecard look like five weeks out from COP26?
At Climate Week, as well as in the political spotlight at UNGA, the focus was on how commitments are kickstarting innovation and targeted investments, while underpinning system-wide transformation. ”Getting it done” provoked a mix of energy and optimism throughout the week.
Three areas stood out for me as having the most potential to influence change:
Sector boundaries are falling
Many of the talks demonstrated the new cross-sector collaborations that are developing and are needed to deliver. It’s transforming how we talk about change and what’s possible. Air-time was focused on cross-sector collaborations and moving beyond the superficial to tackle the underlying systemic issues with concrete action plans. In a session on innovation to address the complexities of reducing Scope 3 emissions, supply chain leaders from household brands like Nike, Microsoft and Unilever, all members of the Transform to Net Zero initiative, outlined actions they are taking to engage suppliers in reducing upstream emissions to meet the Paris Agreement goals.
David Ingram, chief procurement officer at Unilever, said working with companies like Maersk, whose methanol-fueled container ships will save an estimated one million tons of emissions, was a future priority.
Scaling up energy
green energy transition was one urgent and sweeping reform as part of the commitment to ambitious targets, including the financial sector and system driving investment. There were encouraging words despite the scale of the challenge, and clear direction from the wholesale switch to renewables is absolutely realistic.
Climate Week delegates heard that governments hold the key to “supercharging” the transition through a commitment to renewables targets, better availability and affordability of land and seabed leases and inclusive and transparent planning processes that address community needs. Reskilling workers currently reliant on fossil fuels and making clean energy available and affordable in populous developing nations was also spotlighted.
Every company has consumers
The industrial sector, where transformation may be less obvious and net-zero commitments have typically been longer-term to date, struck a constructive chord. Delegates from heavy industries signaled that while many challenges remain and the sector doesn’t yet have all the answers on how to achieve science-based targets, accelerated change is demanded of companies, and tangible steps towards stated net-zero by 2050 commitments are required now. One area that needs to see more collaboration is consumption and behaviour change.
Consumers have notoriously hard habits to break, particularly when it involves changing behaviours, products or spending. From my perspective, we recognise as an industry the power that advertising can have in changing behaviour, and shifting perceptions – but it typically focuses on business-to-consumer (B2C) brands. Consumer behaviour change is critical to climate action, and that is not just a B2C issue. As PwC chairman Bob Moritz said: “We need 8 billion people to make this a personal cause.” The scale (and pace) of net-zero change being committed to by B2C brands will have a transformative impact on business-to-business (B2B) companies behind the products in our daily lives. It makes consumer behaviour everyone’s business. That will be one to watch in the year ahead, post COP.
Reflecting on the week overall, while occasionally the positive sense of momentum and energy at events across the week may have seemed at odds with the stark warning delivered by the IPCC “code red” report last month, I believe business and political leaders were right to lean into the assessment by IPCC’s scientists that there is still time to avert the worst impacts of climate change, if we act quickly. Far from mixed messaging – or avoiding realities – it was a recognition that humans are at their most innovative, and most collaborative, when facing an enemy they believe they can defeat.
Ambition and action go hand-in-hand to secure a safe and just transition for all. They have to. We will hear this time and time again in the coming few weeks, but if Climate Week’s sentiment rings true, industry, financial and political leaders are now clear on the ask. The commitments the UK Government is calling for at COP26 still have a distance to go. They are critical to underpin, enable and accelerate business commitments and action. The urgency is now beyond doubt.
Dentsu International’s chief sustainability officer Anna Lungley