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PA IN THE MEDIA

Flipping the conversation: the aftermath of COP26

This article was first published in Forbes

There was a lot riding on COP26. While one single conference could never mitigate the climate crisis once and for all, a lot of important puzzle pieces came together in Glasgow this year – powerful people, powerful ideas, and powerful commitments.

While there were certainly achievements, there were also disappointments. The likes of India and China watering down the global commitment to reducing coal generation put a dampener on the conference’s outcomes.

This came in stark contrast to the rising stars of the fight against the climate crisis: climate-vulnerable small nations from the Caribbean to the Pacific Island states, many of which were unable to send leaders to attend in person.

While some countries let the side down, there were unexpected wins – namely from within the private sector, from leaders who showed up and committed to change more than ever before. By its nature, the COP brings together voices and ideas from across business, politics, society, and science, and this was certainly true in Glasgow.

For me, it was these unlikely conversations, between people who wouldn’t ordinarily come together, that led to some of the most meaningful outcomes at COP26.

Building partnership from problems

Conversation is crucial to making anything happen. This time, for the first time, it felt like the public and private sectors, as well as activists and scientists, came together to touch, feel, and experience what our global climate response could and should be. Thanks to this, we saw more hunger and desire for change than we ever have.

In itself, that’s a huge step forward. But more than that, these conversations had consequences – they helped form unlikely partnerships between organisations that in many cases wouldn’t ordinarily share a room, never mind a goal.

Currently, so much of how we judge what it is to ‘do business’ is focussed on the end customer – usually your average consumer. But at COP26, the conversation was flipped on its head. What if we focus doing business on resource? What if resources are what we – businesses, but also people and planet – are competing for? It’s this conversation that will go a long way to solving some of the most pressing issues around climate change.

Take two companies who might never normally work together – an aerospace giant and a consumer goods conglomerate, for instance. Their customers couldn’t be further apart. But what they both have in common is the amount of water they use in their operations – and the impact this is having on the planet, and their ESG goals.

If both companies have manufacturing plants in the same water-scarce regions, can they work together to ease the pressure they’re causing? Can they innovate to further their decarbonisation efforts while they’re at it? By flipping the conversation from customers to resources, real change could happen.

Even better, private companies can involve start-ups, charities, and the younger voices – many of whom shouted the loudest and made the greatest impact at COP26 – to bring innovation to the fore and make these ideas reality.

In the next five years, I’m hopeful we can build on this focus on resource, so that every business conversation leads with it. This will be a huge shift in strategy, but it’s absolutely critical to mitigating the climate crisis. After showing up more purposefully than ever before at COP26, the private sector now has a responsibility to deliver on the promises it made. Most companies will only be able to achieve this by working together, with a network of trusted partners, unlikely or otherwise.

Impatience for change

It’s these intersections, of huge conglomerates with small start-ups, researchers with private companies, government funding with VCs, that should put the pieces we need in place. The unlikely conversations that forged these partnerships chiselled away at the crux of climate issues. It’s this chiselling that will lead to the action we need to see – whatever the end goal.

Now that the conference is over, we need more. The momentum must continue, not dwindle. We need to see an even greater hunger and desire to take action, from everyone involved. It’s not enough to simply show up, nor to make promises with no concrete means of delivering. COP26 will only have truly succeeded if these promises turn into positive change.

At the core of this is working with an ecosystem of partners, sourced from across the worlds of business, politics, science, and beyond. Only then will the best ideas evolve, will innovation thrive, and will change happen.

The business case for sustainability has never been stronger – it is a massive commercial, purpose-led opportunity

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