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The UK Hosts COP26 & Leads the Charge in the Race to Net Zero

Written by: Jenny Dunn, Energy Policy Advisor, British Embassy, and Rebecca Lewis, Regional Deputy Director – East, British Consulate General New York| Trade & Investment

All eyes are on the UK as the country prepares to host the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) on Monday, November 1 – Friday, November 12, 2021. Public and private sector entities throughout the world must work together to reduce emissions. Global strategies and actions, such as the Prime Minister’s ten point plan and the “Ambition Loop” are moving the dial in the right direction. The Prime Minister’s ten point plan is the UK’s blueprint for meeting climate targets, supporting global opportunities, and encouraging trade across innovation areas. This plan for a green industrial revolution exemplifies the affirmative approach government can take to build back better, support green jobs, and accelerate the path to net zero. The “Ambition Loop” is a positive feedback loop in which bold government policies and private sector leadership reinforce each other. Corporate leadership and strong government policy measures are spurring additional investment and action by businesses. These strategic public/private partnership campaigns are vitally important in taking climate action to the next level. The Department for International Trade, and bi-national business organizations like the British American Business Council, are playing important roles by bringing these groups together for informative meetings featuring global stakeholders and climate leaders. These, and many other sessions throughout the world, taking place in lead-up to COP26, are spearheading the collaborative efforts and plans to accelerate the transition to a prosperous net zero economy.

What is COP26 and why is it so important to tacking climate change?

In 2015, countries agreed at COP21 in Paris to limit average global temperature increase to well below 2C, aiming for 1.5C. In order to keep that 1.5C target alive, as we are determined to do, we must halve global emissions by 2030 and reach net zero emissions as soon as possible, and by 2050 at the very latest.

Business is essential to achieving this goal. We need the innovation, influence and energy of the private sector on our side and we need businesses to act now to ensure they are part of the global low carbon transition, which is accelerating. Countries and organisations aiming for net zero cover nearly 70% of GDP. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, net zero commitments doubled in 2020.

COP26 also provides a global platform to highlight businesses as global leaders in tackling climate change. In November, the eyes of the world are on the UK as we host COP26 in November following on from the G7 Leaders Summit in June. COP26 must be the moment that all parts of society act to protect the planet.

What does the UK want to achieve as COP26 President and what is the role for business?

Alok Sharma, the COP President Designate, has set out four key goals for the COP26 Presidency. Businesses are a vital component of all the goals and can help achieve success through their own action; working with peers and across their value chains; becoming positive advocates for climate action and working with governments to let them know that businesses want stronger climate policy.

From a UK Government perspective, more businesses making commitments to deliver action helps drive bold policy measures to support these efforts. For example, the UK Government has accelerated the phase-out date for polluting cars and vans to 2035, as more companies have adopted zero emission vehicle (ZEV) fleets.  In turn, those frameworks make it easier for business to achieve their own goals.

We are asking all businesses to take immediate action to reduce emissions by joining the Race to Zero.  This requires businesses to take robust short-term action to halve global emissions by 2030, and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. We need both large businesses, as well as smaller ones to sign up.

What is the Race to Zero?

The UN-backed Race to Zero campaign is the largest global alliance of companies, cities, investors, regions and universities committed, based on science, to halving global emissions by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050 at the very latest. Over 3,000 businesses have now joined the Race to Zero, representing a combined revenue of almost US$15 trillion.

Major US firms such as: American Airlines, Johnson and Johnson, Pepsi, Microsoft, Amazon, Ford Motor Company, Pfizer, FMC Corporation, and Livent are spearheading important climate change efforts by joining the Race to Zero. In addition, commitments by significant metropolitan regions, such as the City of Philadelphia, are leading by example. In January 2021, Jim Kenney, Mayor of Philadelphia and Christine Knapp, Director, Office of Sustainability, published a climate action playbook highlighting the City’s plans to reduce contribution to climate change by eliminating carbon emissions from three sectors: Buildings and Industry, Transportation, and Waste. Click here to access the report.

Are corporate net-zero targets realistic/achievable?

Though a net zero commitment is ambitious, companies are demonstrating it is achievable, often realising targets ahead of schedule at the same time as driving business growth. Indeed, a recent analysis of 338 companies that have set science-based targets shows that they have collectively reduced their annual emissions by 25% between 2015 and 2019. Reducing emissions more quickly while incurring lower costs than expected chimes with UK Government experience too. The UK, between 1990 and 2018, has reduced our emissions by 43% – the fastest rate in the G7 – whilst growing our economy by 75%.

One of the most powerful aspects of committing to science-based emissions targets is that it requires businesses to ensure a comprehensive understanding of their value chains in order to eliminate their carbon footprint. Sixty-three percent of company executives say setting science-based targets drives innovation.

Hannah Young, Acting Consul General New York, reports “2021’s Climate Week in September, alongside the UN General Assembly will be a crucial stepping stone – as well as the British American Business and World Affair Council’s early October event – in the lead up to COP 26 in Glasgow this November. Now is the time to act whilst we can effect change, mobilise capital, support a green global recovery, and safeguard the planet for future generations.”

You can find general background on the Race to Zero, more detail on the criteria for entry and leadership practices here. The Race to Zero campaign comprises a number of initiatives that businesses (and other non-State actors) can join to become part of the Race to Zero. A full list is available here.

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