COP26: The stepping stones to success for Government and Business?

25 Mar 2021

Last week Co-Director Jan Webb joined Lord Callanan, Minister for Business, Energy & Corporate Responsibility and Keith Anderson, Chief Executive of Scottish Power for a discussion and Q&A chaired by Professor Charles Hendry, President of the British Institute of Energy Economics.

The event, COP26: The stepping stones to success for Government and Business, focused on what is required of government and business to make COP26 a success. A write up of the event is below, and a video from the webinar can be accessed here.

The Government perspective: Lord Callanan

COP26 provides an opportunity for the UK to show global leadership in tackling climate change. Building on the momentum of the recent nationally determined contributions (NDC) commitment, the 10 point plan and the industrial decarbonisation strategy, it can position the UK at the forefront of new growing low carbon industries.

Through its presidency, the UK will be urging countries to submit bold NDCs and net zero commitments. 2020 saw the rate of adoption of science-based climate commitments double in 2020 compared to those of 2015-2019. Small businesses are being encouraged to join the green revolution, with an aim of 100,000 joining the race to zero. A key aim will be to see big businesses lead the way in supporting their supply chains to also make the transition.

There are five sector-level campaigns, covering adaptation and resilience, finance, energy transitions, clean road transport, and nature. These campaigns will provide opportunities to bring together businesses and raise ambitions, providing tangible steps to work with public groups encouraging them to take action to support long term targets in line with the COP 26 campaigns.

The business perspective: Keith Anderson

Hosting COP 26 presents an opportunity for Glasgow to become the world’s first leading city in the call to action to tackle climate change. Scotland is now powered by 90% renewable energy, but further massive change is required, from heavy polluting industry to a green industrial revolution.

The involvement of government and regulatory frameworks will be critical to success, developing the environment for investment and innovation, such as that seen recently in offshore and onshore wind. However more needs to be done, and faster.

Decarbonisation of the power sector was stage one, now transport, domestic heating and industrial processes need to be tackled. The Government needs to look at these areas and develop the regulatory frameworks in consultation with business to enable the wave of change like that seen in the renewables sector. The 10 point plan contains the building blocks to get to net zero and the industrial strategy is a further step to moving away from a carbon economy, but we need to go faster and do more.

Looking forward to 2030 and the road to 2050, big changes are required.  By 2030 all new vehicles sold will need to be electric, this will require the necessary frameworks and investment in the grid to bring together the transport and electricity system. Heating in homes needs to be transformed, and we need to bring people on the journey, with everyone benefitting from access to the new low carbon economy.

COP will provide an opportunity to showcase Glasgow as leading the world in delivering net zero, providing an example for others to follow.

Panellist: Jan Webb

A key requirement to success will be a big step up by government in the scale and pace of action. The world is currently on track for 3-4oC warming, biodiversity is collapsing and we are at a global crisis point. A radical shift away from fossil fuels is needed and action has been slow. COP26 needs these facts upfront, to achieve more than statements of intent.

The UK government needs to lead by example, the 2019 net zero commitment is positive, but there have been inconsistent messages around investment for fossil fuels, subsidised road building and potential new coal mining, leading to uncertainty and slowing investment. The recent raft of policy pledges are heavily reliant on techno-optimism, but they need consistent and systematic action.

A recent UNEP report concluded that the UK was not building back greener, estimating that only 10% of UK publicly funded investment could be categorised as green. There were commitments in the 2021 budget, but comments have been that few were concrete or near term. For COP26 to succeed the promised net zero strategy needs to provide detail beyond policy pledges, ensuring measurable near-term investment and commitment on the part of government to independent monitoring, alongside sustained investment in science. Many businesses have made net zero commitments, again these need to be measurable and investors need to hold company directors to account.

The CCC 6th carbon budget highlighted how three fifths of the change needed are around how we behave – demand, social conduct and behaviour need to be reshaped, with government and business engaging more extensively with citizens. A focus is needed on homes and energy for heat, but as yet there is no clear policy for buildings and heat. Leadership from government is essential, with business and government cooperating to make societal welfare and social change central to a commitment for decent jobs and a stake in the future for everyone, whilst always remaining aware that time is running out.

Access a video of the webinar here