One of the most dangerous symptoms of climate anxiety is a feeling that the world’s problems are just too great and that we can’t – as individuals or even industries – make a difference. It’s enough to demotivate even the most strident environmentalist.
That’s why, amid the outrage and clickbait, it’s vital we give some airtime to why we should feel positive post COP.
First, let us address the disappointments, because there were always going to be some. The pledge on coal is weak and commits countries only to ‘phase down’ the use of coal-fired power rather than eradicating it completely. Similarly, headlines throughout the conference may have left you with an impression that delegates were flying into COP26 on a stream of private jets and then out again in time for dinner. So, what’s the point?
Well, I know more than a few who joined me on the sleeper train to Glasgow and back – an eco-friendly alternative to short haul, yes, but also enjoyable and efficient. Away from the political leaders and billionaires, the conference was undoubtedly made up of normal people hoping to make an impact, and that’s heartening in itself.
The built environment day was also positive. The UKGBC net zero whole-life-carbon roadmap is a fantastic piece of work. Its action-focused approach is refreshing and, after years of bluster and vague objectives across the sector, it sets out tangible activity and deadlines for developers, contractors and their supply chain. Many will take it away as a clear route forward for their organisations.
That’s one of the overriding reasons for my optimism: whether it’s the high-profile nature of COP26 putting climate change in everyone’s newsfeeds or that we’re starting to see very real examples of a climate emergency around us, it feels like we are focused on action for the first time. There’s also a much greater understanding of consumer demands than in the past. The public are starting to vote with their feet on sustainability, moving away from and even punishing brands that get it wrong. That’s certainly lit a fire under some that were previously slow to progress.
More than 400 financial organisations, controlling $130trn between them, agreed to back clean technology, such as renewable energy, and to direct finance away from fossil-fuel-burning industries. That’s huge news and shows investors are really starting to take note. Many will only consider investing in green projects now and are exploring ways to futureproof their existing assets. Best intentions are nothing without funding, and an increase in financial backing is the thing that’s most likely to bring about progress.
While I came away uplifted, I’m not suggesting we rest on our laurels. Quite the opposite. We must use this momentum and level of public and corporate awareness to drive forward. There are still gaps in our regulation, particularly around embodied carbon targets, and we need to make progress on positive alternatives like the use of timber in medium-rise residential buildings. We’re falling behind our international friends in some of these areas, and the challenges we face shouldn’t be underestimated.
One of COP26’s overriding legacies will be the suite of corporate ESG announcements and commitments it inspired. At King’s Cross, we announced that we had become carbon neutral. While it is an important milestone for us and for the people who live, work and visit the estate, it is not the final destination. Across the sector, we must harness achievements like this and the positivity and collaborative spirit of COP26 to push on harder and faster. For us, that means our ultimate goal of net zero.
Claudine Blamey is head of sustainability and digital strategy at Argent