COP26 cleantech

What COP26 meant for cleantech and how the sector can prepare for COP27

COP26 was a disappointment.

Now that the dust has settled on the two-week-long climate conference, activists, bureaucrats, lawmakers and companies have started strategising how to implement the Glasgow Pact.

While it’s fair to say that the event didn’t meet its high expectations, COP26 did highlight that cleantech companies have the solutions to fight global warming. But, on the other hand, the climate summit also showcased everything that is hindering climate action: a lack of political ambition, a near-complete disregard for climate justice and the overbearing presence of fossil fuel lobbies.

Why was COP26 so important?

This year’s COP converged three crucial milestones. It marked the first time that Paris Agreement signatories had to increase their climate ambitions and come forward with ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions. While the Paris Agreement aimed to limit average global temperature rise to 1.5˚C degrees, we’ve already reached 1.1˚C degrees, with the past decade being the hottest on record.

COP26 also happened just a few months after the publication of the most incriminating IPCC report to date. This report stated that the world is running out of time to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change.

Finally, this was the first time the annual climate conference had to be delayed by a year due to the global pandemic. While all international events were cancelled in 2020, none were of the same importance as COP. Mitigating global warming is a race against the clock, and we don’t have the luxury of delaying climate action.

The good, the bad and the “can’t tell if it’s greenwashing or not” of COP26

Existing commitments pre-COP26 put us on track for 2.7˚C warming by the end of the century. However, despite the new pledges made at this year’s COP, we are still rushing towards a 2.4˚C temperature increase by the same timeframe. Country leaders ran COP26 the same way previous climate conferences were organised ten or fifteen years ago. The event may have been considered a success a decade or so ago, but not today.

The combined delegation of fossil fuel companies shouldn’t be larger than any country’s delegation. Indigenous communities should also have a say in the negotiations, given that they help safeguard 80% of the world’s biodiversity despite constituting less than 5% of the world’s population. Furthermore, there should be a focus on proper reparation from the wealthiest countries since the G20 nations are responsible for emitting 80% of global warming greenhouse gases emissions. Finally, the companies focused on developing the technologies needed to halt global warming – namely cleantech businesses – should have priority over fossil fuel businesses at COP events. As shown at COP26, these businesses currently have to jump through several bureaucratic hoops to prove that they are worthy enough to attend.

Despite being a cruel metaphor for the current lack of climate justice and climate action, some positives did come from the agreed Glasgow Pact.

Firstly, an agreement to phase down coal and fossil fuels – even if earlier drafts of the deal were bolder. This commitment is the first-ever reference to fossil fuels, which should be saluted even if we lament the watered-down approach.

On climate finance, wealthy states have agreed to increase financial commitments to affected states for climate adaptation. However, despite at least doubling collective funding from 2019 pledges, this extra funding will not be enough to provide all the adaptation measures required. Additionally, loss and damage – which refers to the destruction caused by extreme weather events – was also excluded from the final pact.

Outside of the Glasgow Pact, 120 nations representing 90% of the world’s forests have pledged to halt deforestation by 2030. Meanwhile, 100 countries signed the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030.

Overall, the Glasgow Pact and other external pledges fall short of meeting the 1.5˚C target set by the Paris Agreement. As a result, most of the more ambitious measures have been pushed back to be discussed at next year’s COP in Egypt.

What can cleantech companies do before COP27?

Despite the underwhelming results, COP26 presented a lot of very positive signals for the cleantech sector. The most important is that more funding will be made available for cleantech businesses, with finance firms managing a total of US$130 billion joining net-zero pledges and backing up clean energies. The Glasgow Pact also mentioned efforts to ensure a just transition by guaranteeing a fair transfer of jobs between fossil fuels and renewables.

It’s more than likely that clean technologies will be made front and centre at COP27, given that world leaders have been instructed to come back with renewed commitments and strategies. Therefore, cleantech companies have a year to plan and organise to ensure they get a proper seat at the table.

Here are three areas that cleantech companies should start to focus on today to ensure COP27 is a success: 

Organise: Individually, cleantech companies are still too small to counterbalance the weight of the largest corporations. However, cleantech coalitions such as the Greentech Alliance or government bodies like InnovateUK can help cleantech businesses foster their network and amplify their voices globally.

Diversify: Cleantech businesses should bring in stakeholders from outside their usual networks, such as looking for investors in unexpected or untapped areas. Cleantech investment is set to boom next year, so diversifying your approach can enable you to stand out. It’s also well-known that investors are put off investing in cleantech companies due to poor presentations and investor decks that lack storytelling and purpose, so ensure your investor materials are polished and clearly explain your vision and value proposition.

Campaign: One of the most favourable outcomes of COP26 has been the extraordinary mobilisation of climate activists. Cleantech is so much more than business and goes beyond environmental protection. COP26 failed poorer nations, which are already facing the worst impacts of global warming. Taking a stance is standing on the side of climate justice: there can be no successful climate outcome if it only benefits the wealthiest.

The “powerful signals” and “steps in the right direction” that have been praised as a positive outcome of COP26 are not enough. We don’t have the luxury of waiting for political action. 2022 will be the busiest year to date for cleantech – that’s why it’s critical to start organising now.   

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