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  • Adam Harper

How to have a good COP

Quite rightly, COP26 is creating a crowded market for sustainability communications. Climate ambition clearly matters for financial institutions - and the world's pathway to net zero. To stand out, firms should be themselves, be bold and trust in their own insight.

In the highly unlikely event that you hadn’t heard, COP26 kicks off on 31 October in Glasgow. The United Nations Climate Change Conference, or Conference of the Parties, is set to be a pivotal moment in the global response to the climate crisis.


Our ability to meet the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement – and limit global warming to “well below” 2ºC – is at stake in these talks. As Alok Sharma, the UK Minister acting as President for COP26, said earlier this week: Paris promised, but Glasgow must deliver.


As we reach the middle of October, COP26 is beginning to enter public consciousness – just look at the growth in Google searches (below). Not surprisingly, then, this moment of truth in the battle to save the planet is also giving rise truly epic battle for attention among organisations looking to showcase their climate credentials.



This is entirely to be welcomed. It reflects growing ambitions among governments, corporates and investors to help achieve net zero emissions. It also shows the value of the annual COP event in providing a focal point for announcements - and the fact that there was no COP meeting in 2020 has clearly helped increase the momentum ahead of Glasgow. According to a study by the Data-Driven EnviroLab and NewClimate Institute, the number of commitments to reach net zero emissions from local governments and businesses has roughly doubled in under a year.


That’s encouraging progress for the planet. But this proliferation of climate commitments can make it harder for a particular firm’s announcement to stand out. That matters because the providers of capital are – rightly – becoming increasingly sensitive to how the companies that they invest in or finance are going to achieve net zero.


With this in mind, we recommend that financial sector firms should be themselves, be bold and trust in their own insight.


With this in mind, we recommend that financial sector firms should be themselves, be bold and trust in their own insight.

No net zero commitment or sustainability policy is going to please everyone – and some people are very hard to please. "Build back better, blah, blah, blah,” Greta Thunberg said recently. “Green economy, blah, blah, blah. Net-zero by 2050, blah, blah, blah. Climate-neutral, blah, blah, blah. This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words, words that sound great but so far has led to no action."


Congratulating companies on their climate commitments is not part of the job description for activists, though. So don’t be shy about explaining the reality of reaching net zero for your firm and industry. Yes, it is an urgent priority but re-wiring the global economy is also going to be complex and take time. That’s the truth, and the truth is always a good position. Take a leaf out of Greta’s book and tell it like it is, in your own style, because people remember when organisations do that.


Net zero pledges seem like a given for most large firms now, but MSCI’s excellent Net-Zero Tracker shows that the plans of 57% of listed companies do not align with any globally agreed temperature target. In fact, the companies it tracks are on a pathway to causing average temperatures to rise by nearly 3°C above pre-industrial levels. So taking the bold step of committing to a 1.5ºC trajectory can still cut through because of its sheer ambition – fewer than 10% of companies are aligned with this scenario right now.


So taking the bold step of committing to a 1.5ºC trajectory can still cut through because of its sheer ambition – fewer than 10% of companies are aligned with this scenario right now.

Finally, organisations can rise above the pre-COP cacophony by sharing what they know, as well as what they’re going to do. Many financial firms commission external research – which can be very impactful – but there will be other, impactful sources of perspective inside your own firm. What insights do your business, or the data you possess, give you into the journey towards net zero? What changes can you advocate for that would support your transition? It’s time to take stock of these and let your insight help drive your reputation for sustainability.


At a moment like this, it may be possible for the interests of the planet, companies and good communication to be served at the same time. Good luck to everyone working on initiatives around the event and, for all our sakes, let’s hope for a good COP.

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