A conversation about COP26

December 14, 2021 / by Lindsey Matejczyk


Rhea, Associate Consultant at JustOne, recently had a discussion with her father regarding the COP26 Climate Change Conference; answering some of the questions that he had around the event.

Do you have climate action or sustainability related questions that you want answers to? Send them in to rhea.campbell-smith@justone.uk

COP26…It feels like a while go, right?

Almost a month after COP26 finished, we’ve already seen a drop off of it mentioned in the news. We’re not linking relevant speeches that empower us anymore, and family talks have turned to Christmas, and New Year plans. But COP26 is still very, very relevant.

At the beginning of the COP26 talks, we published a post on our LinkedIn here asking for your questions and comments on the subject. At the same time, I was having discussions with my family around how ‘unexpected’ COP26 was to them, and how my retired dad felt out of the loop and uncertain about its purpose.

He had a few questions which inspired me to write this blog. I’ve tried to answer these as honestly, and with as much research as I can; and included my own personal responses and opinions to his questions below.

1. What does ‘COP26’ mean when everything is referred to is the Climate Change Conference? What’s the purpose and what are the goals?

COP26 stands for ‘26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties’. COP26 is an abbreviation, but it is a climate change conference. The purpose of the conference was to unite the world to tackle climate change, with there being four main goals. These were:

  • Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach
  • Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
  • Mobilise finance
  • Work together to deliver

These goals include bringing Net Zero goals forward, supporting countries worst affected by climate change, collaborating together to raise funds to help secure a global net zero, accelerate action and finalise details from the Paris Agreement.

2. From my perspective there is nothing compelling governments to create the change that is needed. Is this a fair comment? What can be done?

In 2015, at the 21st Climate Conference, the Paris Agreement was made, and in April 2016, 175 countries signed the agreement, legally binding them to limit global warming and holding signed countries accountable to meet goals every five years. As a result, more businesses are aiming to become Net Zero in their operations, better reporting of emissions through TCFD, and more people are passionate about getting their local communities to take action. At home you could try:

  • Changing your car to be electric
  • Eating less meat
  • Switching energy tariffs to renewable sources
  • Buying produce locally
  • Swapping out unnecessarily wrapped goods

More tips can be found here: The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World – United Nations Sustainable Development

3. I don’t understand ‘carbon offsetting’, it doesn’t make sense to me to pay another country to have your pollution.

Carbon offsetting is the process of investing in projects which helps to bring your carbon footprint to zero. Businesses, and countries, aiming to become Net Zero can use offsetting as a way of balancing out the carbon left over after they have reduced as much of their emissions as possible. This needs to be strictly managed to avoid greenwashing. Take a read of Rio’s blog on key considerations for due diligence.

Think of it as a cup of tea when you’re in the garden, you might drink 90% when it’s hot, and 6% when it’s cooler, but you’ve still got 4% left over in your cup that you need to get rid of. Carbon offsetting in this scenario would be you pouring the rest into a flower bed. It’s still been made, but it’s being absorbed by something else, not just tipped down the sink.

Carbon credits are a bit like offsetting, except each country has an allocated number of credits they can use. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, carbon emissions are carbon emissions. As a world total the IPCC recommends a concentration under 430 parts per million of carbon. But if you, as a country project that you will emit under your designated amount, and I as a country say ‘ I think I need a few more credits this year’, you could then sell me some of your credits.

You can’t sell more than you’re designated and so we’d still achieve the maximum permissible amount. I’d not be paying you to ‘take’ my pollution, I’m paying you for some of your permissible pollution that you’re not going to use.

4. What does net zero mean? How realistic is the 2050 goal? Is it achievable? Can businesses change by then?

Net Zero means that the amount of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere equals the amount of greenhouse gases being absorbed out of the atmosphere. The act of going Net Zero is to first reduce your emissions, and then ensure the rest are offset to get to zero. Like I said before, this needs to be strictly managed to avoid greenwashing. Discover 10 practical steps organisations of any size or sector can take to begin or progress their net zero journey from our partners at Rio.

The 2050 goal comes from the IPCC’s research Global Warming of 1.5 ºC — (ipcc.ch) into avoiding a global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees over pre industrial levels. If we can reach net zero emissions by then, we may be able to keep global temperate increase below this. I think that Net Zero is achievable, but it will mean a lot of rapid change across many sectors of industry, and by many people, in not that long of a time.

Business are changing, more and more are developing strategies, and making pledges to go Net Zero by 2050, or even sooner, like Sainsbury’s with their 2040 aim. There are people changing, and there are companies who can help them on their journeys too. Please email rhea.campbell-smith@justone.uk if you’d like to learn mroe.

5. What do you hope COP26 achieves? And beyond COP26, what is your advice to people or businesses that want to take climate action now?’

I hope that COP26 has inspired our world leaders to take action and make the necessary changes to enable people and business to reduce their carbon. Beyond COP26, I would urge businesses to create sustainability strategies and consider the impact that their business has on the environment and society, focusing on the areas that they can influence the most.

My advice to you would be similar to what I said earlier, ask your questions. Ask them to me, people in my field, and to companies who make the products you use. Use your voice to inspire positive action. If enough people are asking companies challenging and thought provoking questions then it’s more likely that they’ll respond with positive action.

Rhea is an Associate Consultant at JustOne. If you have any questions that you would like answers to please email at rhea.campbell-smith@justone.uk

Sources of interest:

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