Utilities and banks: UK unveils first round of corporate COP26 sponsors

Many were disappointed with the choice of sponsors for COP25 in Madrid in 2019

Each of the firms has signed a contract to be a ‘Principal Partner’ for the event – a term which represents the highest tier of sponsorship.

The UK Government laid out its criteria for sponsorship earlier this year, stating that it would not be signing deals with companies without net-zero targets for 2050 or sooner, and that all sponsors should have “credible short-term plans” to deliver against their long-term climate ambitions.

In a statement today (16 November), the COP26 secretariat said that SSE, Scottish Power and National Grid are “investing in low-carbon assets and infrastructure as part of the UK’s drive for a decarbonised economy by 2050 at the latest”.

Scottish Power has committed to investing £10bn in renewable generation and improving networks infrastructure for flexibility by the end of 2025, as part of its plans to reach net-zero by 2050 at the latest.

SSE, meanwhile, is developing “just transition” plans to deliver against its science-based targets and to allocate £7bn to clean energy initiatives by the end of 2025. But some green groups have questioned the Government’s choice here, as SSE is planning to build a new 840MW gas power station in Lincolnshire by the end of 2022.

SSE has claimed that the plant, Keadby 2, will be the “cleanest and most efficient in Europe”. Critics have pointed out that the EU is no longer financing gas as a “transition fuel” and that no gas power plants meet the emissions requirements of its green finance taxonomy.

As for NatWest, the bank, formerly the Royal Bank of Scotland, outlined plans earlier this year to go beyond net-zero emissions for its operations by 2025 and to at least halve the climate impact of its financial decisions and activities by 2030. It has since joined the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials (PCAF) in a move which will require it to publicly disclose the climate impacts of projects it finances.

COP26 President and Business Secretary Alok Sharma said each of the chosen sponsors has “shown ambitious climate leadership”.

“We want to do more than play our part – we want to lead on the collaboration and cooperation that is so critical to influencing the transition to a low carbon economy – which is why I am so proud that NatWest Group will be the COP26 lead banking sponsor,” NatWest Group’s chief executive Alison Rose said.

The road to COP26

Prime Minister Boris Johnson formally kick-started the UK’s one-year countdown to COP26 last week.

In a speech delivered on Friday, he urged nations to submit updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement by the end of the year. The UK is yet to outline its own updated NDCs and is facing mounting pressure to lead by example.

Johnson also confirmed that he will unveil the entirety of his ten-point-plan for a green recovery by the end of the month. 

Within Whitehall, Johnson has chosen Conservative MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan to be the conference’s Champion on Adaptation and Resilience. The Government had faced criticism for initially proposing an all-male panel. Trevelyan worked for the Department of International Development until it was merged with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 

Sarah George

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