Beyond Glasgow: How can companies step up climate action?

Green transition 24 November 2021 Devapriyo Das Karina Lindvig

Climate change is far from solved, but COP26 shows there’s momentum for change as the private sector steps up. We look at two areas where immediate action is possible.

Articles
10 mins

After weeks of intense discussions at the COP26 climate summit, representatives from 197 countries produced the Glasgow Climate Pact. They also finalised the Paris Rulebook, a set of unified, and internationally accepted standards for carbon markets, measuring, and reporting emissions. Both documents represent steps forward in the fight against climate change, but much more action is needed to limit global warming at 1.5°C (34.7°F) above pre-industrial levels. 

At the summit, Ramboll drew attention to two key areas of climate action: (1) Decarbonising the built environment, and (2) scaling-up green energy deployment while strengthening climate resilience. Technologies to achieve large-scale carbon reductions in these sectors already exist today. 

Reducing embodied carbon in construction

A low-hanging fruit is reducing embodied carbon ̶ the emissions associated with materials and construction processes throughout the lifecycle of buildings and infrastructure. Embodied carbon accounts for 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with the construction sector alone responsible for around 40% of emissions. 

By using new and innovative materials, setting carbon targets and budgets, as well as tracking carbon emissions, the private sector can drive meaningful emission reductions in buildings and construction. As Ramboll CEO Jens-Peter Saul put it at a high-level industry roundtable at COP26: 

“It is time to widen the focus in construction to include embodied carbon and focus on sustainable materials. For example, using sustainable wood sourced in the Nordics alone, we can build five Glasgows every year! It is time to move forward on solutions, and make sure to focus on the carbon budget alongside the financial costs.”

In a recent report Ramboll shows there is a strong business case in implementing a circular and regenerative approach in the built environment. 

Scaling-up deployment of renewable energy

The global transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy took centre stage at the COP26 summit. There was overwhelming demand from rich and developing countries to “phase out” coal. However, the summit’s final text was amended to call for "phasing down" unabated coal power, as emerging economies believe coal will remain a part of their energy mix for years to come.

The challenge for the private sector is to demonstrate that renewable energy solutions at scale can and should replace coal in a cost-competitive way, as well as transform energy supply in hard-to-decarbonise sectors. Wind and solar power, as well as green hydrogen and Power-to-X will be vital to those efforts.

During high-level dialogues at COP26, Ramboll COO Michael Simmelsgaard emphasised the need for the private sector to support an inclusive and cost-competitive green energy transition: 

"We need to leverage our knowledge and industrial strongholds, be it in offshore wind, green hydrogen or construction, to enable other countries and companies to speed up their decarbonisation journeys. We need to prove that more sustainable alternatives are possible, as well as commercially viable. And that we can deliver these solutions faster, at bigger scale and for the benefit of society and our planet. At the same time, we need to be mindful that each country and company has its own challenges."

Denmark, for instance, has committed to building the world’s first “energy islands” which will harness offshore wind to produce green electricity and green hydrogen. Ramboll is closely supporting a sustainable build-out of both the North Sea and Baltic Sea energy islands.

More than a “Global North greenwash festival”

COP26 was criticised by climate activists for failing to deliver carbon reductions at the scale needed to meet the climate challenge. Other event critiques include not committing to phase out oil and gas, let alone coal, and for not mobilising climate finance for mitigation and adaptation. 

Climate activist Greta Thunberg called the conference “a Global North greenwash festival.” Alok Sharma, the president of the COP26 climate summit, recognised such sentiments in his final address saying he “understands the deep disappointment” before emphasising that is vital “that we protect this agreement.”

Yet there is momentum heading out of Glasgow, and even more reason for the private sector to step up climate actions, as Ramboll CEO Jens-Peter Saul reflects: 

"The summit has veered between optimism and claims of greenwashing, while clearly raising momentum for the global green transition. But ambitious policies are not the same as implementation. In the private sector, we need to deliver on our promises. We need to implement green solutions at scale to accelerate the journey to a 1.5C world. We need to do that alongside governments and civil society. The solutions and technologies are available. There is reason for us to stay optimistic. Let’s get to work, now."

For details about Ramboll’s participation at COP26 Glasgow, see here.

Top 5 takeaways from COP26

  • Around 100 nations promised to curb methane emissions by 30% of 2020 levels by 2030. 
  • More than 130 nations promised to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. 
  • For the first time, coal was classified as a major climate change culprit, and calls for reducing investments in "inefficient fossil fuels" were made. However, the Glasgow Climate Pact was amended to "phasing down" rather than "phasing out" unabated coal power.
  • Developed countries failed to deliver on their promise to provide $100 billion USD per year in climate finance from 2020-2025. However, the Glasgow Climate Pact commits developed countries to double ‘adaptation finance’—funding to help the lowest income countries improve climate resilience—to $40 billion by 2025.
  • All UNFCCC parties are mandated to accelerate actions and to raise climate targets in line with 1.5°C warming by the end of 2022. 

What is the Paris Rulebook? 

The Paris Rulebook provides detailed guidelines that make the 2015 Paris Agreement operational. After many years of disagreement among member states, the Paris Rulebook was agreed at COP26. It sets forth clearer, unified, and internationally accepted standards for carbon markets, measuring, and reporting emissions. Globally, emissions must be cut by 45 percent by 2030 to align with 1.5°C. 

The Paris Rulebook sets a transparency standard for how countries measure and report emission reductions under the Paris Agreement Framework. It specifically includes procedures to ensure carbon credits are not counted twice by multiple companies or countries. It also details that bilateral trade between countries will not be taxed to help fund climate adaptation, a core request from less developed countries. These are crucial to analyse climate pledges and secure robust data on emissions reductions. 

Additionally, all major emitters are required to return in 12 months, rather than the original five-year period, to explain to the UN how their economy-wide policies and plans align with the Paris Agreement. Egypt will host next year’s COP27 from 7-18 November 2022. 

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