This week, leaders from 190 countries and delegates from around the world will converge on Glasgow for COP26. Put off for a year due to the pandemic, we’re reaching a tipping point that many are viewing as the last chance we have as a global society to draw a line in the sand, to agree upon targets, and let this generation be the one who tackles the climate crisis.
If the G20 energy and environment meetings in July, riddled with indecision and an unwillingness to compromise on climate change commitments were any indication, COP26 alone is not going to save us. But it doesn’t mean that all hope is lost.
All eyes will be on the conference’s top goal of globally reaching net zero emissions by 2050. What will it take to get there? COP26 organisers say that it will take actionable commitments from each country in attendance on their 2030 carbon emissions reductions targets – and while we know that measurement and ambition can create momentum, I know I’m not alone in wondering if that’s enough. Further, why should we wait for targets when there are simple actions that can be taken in parallel that will create immediate and tangible results?
If I’ve learned anything throughout my 25-year career in international development, it’s that real change comes about from those on the ground. And while policy and global cooperation are critical, they alone do not ensure that the work will get done. When it comes to the climate crisis, change will not come about from politicians and global leaders arguing over minute details and then waiting for the results; instead, it will be up to the private sector, financiers and citizens to step in and drive change.
If we are to truly limit the impact of this crisis, humanity will need to zero out our net carbon output, and ideally begin removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This won’t occur at scale without throttling overall emissions, which will require not only technical work, but political and economic will to enforce.
I’m reminded of the example of data protection and regulation. Why have governments enacted regulations for the protection of data? It’s certainly not because they were thinking about it independently and proactively. Rather, it’s because the private sector drove a change in the access to and availability of massive amounts of personal information, creating a significant problem that only now governments are attempting to solve.
Similarly, while governments can mandate the value of carbon, the political will and momentum to truly move policies through won’t universally exist until it’s a crisis. And unlike data protection, at a certain point, the climate crisis will be too far gone for us to truly address.
So, what’s the answer?
I believe the answer lies with the twin powers of finance and consumption, and their ability to engage with and support organisations that are setting and meeting aggressive net zero targets. The latest reports indicate that only 90 companies contribute two-thirds of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions, and most consumers are prepared to pay more core services such as utilities where the provider has established aggressive net zero targets.
There are also numerous examples emerging of partnerships structured to quickly generate results that help solve the climate crisis, utilising nature restoration and protection. These partnerships are finding new and innovative ways to finance the restoration of nature, to sequester and neutralise carbon emissions, and value carbon in a way that makes it an attractive investment.
Recently, the UK National Parks partnered with Palladium to launch Revere, an investment facility that’s already putting private finance to work in restoring critical areas of the National Parks to support and improve biodiversity and natural habitats.
Companies like Estée Lauder and Santander bank have already invested real money, with goals to raise upwards of GBP 240 million by 2030. Revere is laying the groundwork for innovative financing for nature restoration and carbon sequestration at scale, in an actionable way to which the private sector can contribute.
We have reached the tipping point. There’s no going back now, and I personally urge companies, investors and individuals not to wait for edicts to come down from COP26, but to start acting today. It will be up to the private sector to lead the charge in achieving a net zero world. I’m confident the means and ability are there – it will just be a matter of summoning the courage to break from the mould and take bold risks. The payoff will be worth it.
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