THE COUNTDOWN TO COP26: HOW SHOULD COMPANIES ENGAGE?
Eleanor Best, director of cleantech at Edelman, talks through the opportunities and challenges for businesses ahead of COP26, and why climate change and communications go hand in hand.
In six months from now, the UK is due to host global leaders, businesses, NGOs, media and the public for the most significant climate milestone since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015: the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow.
There is currently intense speculation about whether the already delayed summit will take place in November as planned. Regardless of timings and logistics, though, one thing is certain. COP26 will shape the direction of climate policy for many years to come and businesses need to engage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact on public health and the economy, and has accelerated the erosion of trust around the world. For many it has also shone a light on the pressing need to tackle climate change.
The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that for two in three UK respondents, tackling climate change is more urgent now than ever before. Two in five said the pandemic has made them more aware of the impact of climate change.
At the same time, people are pessimistic about progress: less than half said the UK is making progress towards tackling climate change and just a third believe that climate change will improve in their lifetime.
Many believe businesses are falling short on their responsibility and should be doing more to fight climate change. The gap between expectation and performance is stark: 67% expect businesses to take action, while just 27% believe that businesses are currently doing enough.
The high expectations of businesses to address and solve one of today’s most pressing challenges has never been more apparent, and brings new demands for business leaders to focus on societal engagement with the same rigor, thoughtfulness, and energy used to deliver on profits.
The UN’s COP26 summit is an opportunity for businesses to showcase their environmental credentials and communicate the steps they are taking to help tackle climate change. It is also an opportunity to break down silos: 78% of those in the UK believe that businesses and the government need to work together to solve climate change. Institutions should partner with one another to drive impact and they should also partner to tell their stories in a way that is accessible and resonates.
The UK Government’s target to cut emissions by 78% by 2035 is world leading, but such ambition needs the buy-in and support of the business community. Many companies have already come forward with their own Net Zero targets, but it is important to put action at the heart of these commitments. The UNFCCC’s Race to Zero Campaign is a new collective standard for science based targets and credible action plans rather than positive sentiment.
When it comes to bringing these plans to life, businesses should explore partnerships with customers, supply chains and relevant NGOs to make campaigns more impactful and credible. Those with ‘boots on the ground’ at COP26 itself should think about how they can creatively showcase their collaborative approach in the global fight against climate change to attendees. Businesses should also consider whether they can use any wider physical footprint in or around Glasgow for visits or events.
In the year when the UK holds the presidency of the G7 and hosts COP26, there is a significant opportunity for businesses to show domestic and global leadership to address climate change. David Attenborough’s inaugural Instagram post declared that “saving the planet is now a communications challenge”. While undoubtedly true, it is absolutely critical that businesses take meaningful action first and then communicate about it.