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COP26: The One Thing We Need To Achieve At This Year’s Conference


22 October 2021

This article was first published in Forbes

There’s a lot of pressure on the attendees of this year’s COP26, also known as the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference. It’s been almost two years since the largely fruitless COP25, and in that time, the impact of climate change on our planet and its people has become more apparent than ever.

Consumer consciousness around climate issues has also grown exponentially, and shows no signs of slowing down. As such, world leaders will have their work cut out to achieve what needs to be achieved, and crucially, to prove they’re serious about making change happen beyond rhetoric.

I expect (and hope) that this year’s conference will be focused heavily on action, moving away from a previous focus on reporting and goal-setting, to being firmly set on our global response to the climate crisis. But there is one key outcome that will enable this action on climate change – and it can only be achieved by coming together.

Global connections

To see action, we need several things: financing at scale, engineering at scale, and innovation at scale. But no one organisation can offer this alone. We need collaboration – that’s why the most important outcome from COP26 would be establishing a series of consortia, designed to tackle some of our biggest problems, in line with the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The UN has a unique ability to convene, and COP26 is the perfect place to set plans for such collaboration in motion.

In brief, creating a meaningful consortium comes down to connecting public and private funding with innovators and engineering firms, to bring together the trifecta of cash, ideas, and production. Whether that’s governments, start-ups, financial institutions, corporate monoliths, or banks, it’s the collaboration that’s key to finding solutions.

One of the four goals of this year’s conference is ‘mobilising finance’ – more specifically, developed countries living up to their promise of mobilising $100 billion a year in climate finance. Another is ‘working together’. Creating consortia, then, is the obvious path forward to help the UN achieve both these goals. COP26 provides the framework to solve problems, as well as the regulatory oversight and the global stage. It’s a no brainer.

The impact of collaboration

So how would this play out in practice? The most important first step is to be laser focused on a specific SDG, and to put what you could offer – be that innovative ideas, engineering power, or money – on the table. Then, the UN would convene other organisations that complement your mission, offering other parts of the puzzle.

MIT launched an initiative earlier this year – the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium – bringing together tech giants such as IBM and Apple with other major global organisations like PepsiCo and Verizon, to accelerate large-scale solutions to combat climate change. This shows that with the innovation might of MIT behind it, big name consortiums are possible.

Out of COP26, it would be ideal to see a series of more targeted consortiums launched. As a hypothetical example, let’s take SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation. Moreover, since water stress is such a regional issue, let’s take an even more focused geographical approach.

Let’s say there are several major producers in one water-stressed area: one using water for crops, one using water for chip manufacturing, and another using water to cool its data centres. These are all non-competing businesses, competing for the same raw resource – which is already under stress. These businesses could connect with a specialised innovator, such as Aqua 4D, that uses technology to, for example, desalinate seawater using thermal solar energy, or clean wastewater without the use of polluting chemicals.

This way, the major manufacturers have a new source of water that not only means they can stay competitive, but tackles the issue of water scarcity – better for business, for the planet, for people, and often, for the bottom line.

Under pressure

This is one of the last opportunities we have to enact meaningful change in our response to climate change. COP is the best place to convene these consortia – bringing together engineering, money, regulation, innovation, and more. Frankly speaking, if we don’t see multiple examples of this coming out of this year’s event, COP26 will have failed.

World leaders must grasp the opportunity COP26 presents with both hands, and work together. Only then will we see real change happen, sooner rather than later.

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