In the twenty-three months since COP25 concluded in Madrid, the climate crisis has become ever-present in our lives, with devastating floods, scorching heat waves, frightening fires, increased weather extremes, and evidence of the growing impact upon nature.
Forces could align at COP26 in Glasgow to agree on tangible, game-changing solutions, or could leave the world further behind in the fight to stop the changing climate.
As we enter what may be a contentious, challenging two weeks, we deliver our COP26 Preview. These six factors will shape COP26.
The FleishmanHillard COP26 Unit will track the formal negotiations and broader discussions on these topics and others that will determine the outcomes.
Hearing the ‘Thundering Wake-up Call’ | COP26 Preview
The UNFCCC warned this week that the most recent Nationally Determined Contributions from governments around the world put the planet on track for heating of 2.7°C by the end of the century.
Missing the Paris Agreement goal of a temperature increase well below 2°C – ideally 1.5°C – is predicted to have catastrophic consequences.
Even as UN Secretary-General declared it a “thundering wake-up call”, assessments indicate that plans from many of the 20 highest emitting countries are vague or lack tangible details.
The success of COP26 will be dictated by whether major governments, particularly India, China, the United States, the UK and other G20 countries, answer that call for more significant action.
Managing Expectations and Narratives | COP26 Preview
The UK COP26 Presidency and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have worked hard to manage expectations for COP26 over the past two weeks, with rhetoric about “humanity’s last chance” dialled down and replaced with talk about how hard it will be to reach agreement.
The tone of commentary during the week one Leaders Summit will provide an indication of whether world leaders are prepared to go further. Watch for how CEOs and other leaders help shape that narrative.
COP26 organisers could see them as key to building positive momentum by encouraging countries to be more ambitious, or to helping to reframe COP26 as a step forward but not the final, decisive moment.
A cautious, conservative approach from business could prompt questions for corporate executives who have spent the past year promoting their climate credentials.
Beleaguered Britain on Home Turf | COP26 Preview
While the UK Government has worked hard to use COP26 to showcase its climate credentials, it enters the summit under fire on environmental issues and facing diplomatic challenges.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s new Budget was criticised for a lack of climate measures – minimal investment in heat pumps and insulation for homes, modest spending on public transport, and a surprising 50 percent reduction on taxes on domestic flights.
Simultaneously, the Government faced a flood of negative attention following a decision by Conservative MPs not to block the dumping of raw sewage into Britain’s waters, while it is moving toward a tense stand-off with the EU on fishing rights just as it needs its closest neighbour to be a close partner in pushing the climate agenda.
The UK would have hoped for a better home advantage going into the summit.
China-U.S. Climate Competition | COP26 Preview
Just ahead of COP26, U.S. President Joe Biden introduced a sweeping legislative package that could put the United States on track to cut emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030 through clean energy tax credits, a sizeable electric vehicle tax credit of up to $12,500 per family, and a new 300,000 person ‘civilian climate corps’.
It further opens the battle for leadership in a new climate economy with China – with both countries eager to gain maximum advantage in the race to develop and deploy green technology and renewable energy infrastructure (even if China’s President Xi Jinping does not attend the summit).
That presents businesses and investors with a tremendous opportunity that also benefits the climate if the U.S. and Chinese governments’ commitments are backed up by spending at scale and progress on making international trade green.
Climate Finance for Countries in Need | COP26 Preview
The governments of developed economies have almost certainly failed to meet their target of providing $100 billion in annual climate finance for lower- and middle-income countries by 2020.
A major factor in determining the success of COP26 is, therefore, whether climate finance commitments to support developing countries for the next decade are larger, more specific, and more effective.
For example, an estimated 80 percent of climate finance is high-interest loans instead of grants, spending typically goes to mitigation projects rather than climate adaptation initiatives to help those already affected by climate change, and some of the poorest countries say it is difficult to navigate the complex bureaucracy to access funds.
As a result, expect developing countries to be sharply critical if they see another disappointment on the horizon. On the flip side, significant commitments could be a boon for economic growth as these countries invest in new technology and capabilities.
Sectors under Scrutiny – and with Opportunity | COP26 Preview
Sectors already in the spotlight over carbon emissions, such as energy, agriculture, aviation and automotive, will remain a focus for COP26.
Expect the summit to prompt even more intense public discussion about how fundamental consumption habits and behaviours need to change – and equally intense political and public resistance when these changes might affect national economies and residents’ livelihoods or might come with sizeable costs amidst COVID-19 recovery efforts. But other sectors may be pushed to step forward.
While COP26 will focus on technical negotiations rather than corporate promotion, companies whose products or services are part of our everyday lives, such as tech, healthcare and fashion, will have an opportunity to advocate for greater action by government and make stronger commitments themselves, which will help build their reputation with consumers.
Michael Hartt, senior partner and head of international affairs