OUR THINKING/ARTICLE

Thought leadership and COP26: Three new conversations on climate

Ben Harrison

In November, the United Nations Climate Change Conference – also known as COP26 – will bring together world leaders in Glasgow to agree on an action plan for climate change.

The Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement demonstrate the crucial role that the conference plays in bringing governments together. But what role can businesses play? And do they have anything new to say?

Corporates: The cause and the cure

In 2017, the Carbon Majors Report concluded that just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.

So the role of business in climate change should not be understated. And businesses know it. They often fall under the remit of their government’s targets, but they frequently take it on themselves to set their own targets.

IKEA has announced its intention to become climate positive by 2030. The BBC aims to be net zero by the same date. Even oil giant Shell has said it wants net zero emissions by 2050.

With COP26 around the corner, now is the time to be planning how your brand can join in and help inform the debate come November.

New themes that will resonate beyond COP26

Decarbonisation. Emissions. The circular economy. These topics are well-covered in thought leadership, and established brands already lead the conversation.

So how can your brand stand out? Here, our editorial team reveals three areas where brands can use their thought leadership to start new conversations – conversations that will last long beyond November 2021.

 

1. The energy transition: Talk is cheap

It’s not in doubt that companies are concerned about climate-related risk. But whether they are prepared to deal with it is open to question.

As organisations set targets for a low or no-carbon future, they also confront the threats that climate change poses to supply chains, access to raw materials and reputations.

In striving for ‘net zero’, are companies making themselves more vulnerable elsewhere? Significant shifts in energy consumption and the business model require new investment in technology and talent. And the day-to-day reality of meeting stretching targets will inevitably demand trade-offs, as demand for concrete action increases.

Gaps and grey areas will emerge. Regulators and the competition will be ready to highlight missteps and shortfalls. Just as many leaders look to peers for best practice net zero strategies, so they’ll also need to update their risk radars: on talent, technology and climate.

Not meeting emissions-reduction targets is damaging enough; leaving your business exposed in new ways could pile on even more pain.

Sean Kearns, Editor-in-chief

2. Transport and cities: The big questions

The private car changed the shape of our cities forever. Or so we thought. It’s been some 100 years since Henry Ford’s “car for the great multitude” transformed cities and lifestyles. Today, road transport makes up 10% of global emissions – and a lot of the air pollution in cities. Staying on track for limiting global warming to 1.5°C will need the biggest rethink of mobility in over a century.

COP26 will bring together governments, business and civil society to accelerate the electrification of transport and scale up public and private electric vehicle (EV) fleets. But efforts have to go well beyond overhauling our markets and infrastructure for EVs and other alternative fuels. It’s time for governments, the private sector, communities and financiers to take a strategic and collaborative approach.

• How do we alleviate pollution and congestion in city centres?
• How do we ensure equitable access to transport and economic opportunity for disadvantaged communities – especially in times of crisis such as the pandemic?
• How do we divide up urban space and public roads between cars, buses, bikes, e-scooters and pedestrians?

These are some of the big questions for the next decade, and they are issues that thought leadership can address. Now is the time when visionary industrial and tech sector companies can make their mark.

Sonja Caymaz, Senior editor

3. Consumers and employees: Newly radicalised?

Sustainable consumerism has long been a trend, but the events of the past 18 months or so have been a forced reckoning. Many consumers have doubled down on their efforts to make more responsible choices.

They are aware of the impact of sustainable choices on everything from reducing waste and carbon emissions to supporting local communities and increasing equality. Even the speed with which Covid-19 spread has led many to question the role that more sustainable decisions could have on ecology, and in sectors such as transport and tourism.

But there’s a gap between intention and action, and many consumers expect the brands they support to lead the way. A study we conducted with Smurfit Kappa just before the pandemic found that 61% of consumers expect the brands they buy from to have clear sustainability practices, and about a third say it’s the responsibility of retailers to ensure shoppers are informed about sustainability at the point of purchase.

It’s not just the consumer-brand dynamic that’s facing this challenge. One of our recent surveys found that three-quarters of business executives believe sustainability has become more important to their employees in the past 12 months.

There is a clear call to action here for companies willing to take it. Consumers and employees want insight, accountability and action from the companies they trust.

But be warned: today’s consumers are sensitive to greenwashing and will not tolerate a lack of transparency or authenticity. And once lost, consumer trust is often lost forever.

Megan Wright, Senior editor

 

Are you planning thought leadership for COP26? Get in touch with our team of experts and we will help you plan, design or create a thought leadership programme that stands out from the crowd.

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About the author: Ben Harrison

As marketing executive, Ben leads various marketing activities such as the firm’s social media effort, our always-on content programme, and all aspects of the website – from maintenance to re-designs. He also manages the department’s tech stack, delivering an increasingly seamless experience from marketing all the way through to the sales team.

Ben also contributes to the marketing team’s overall strategy and goals, helping to plan, execute and effectively measure all our content and engagement that push the firm towards brand- and commercial-oriented goals.

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