How to save the Earth
Was COP26 a success? We speak to four experts to find out if enough was done to tackle the climate crisis
Six years after the Paris Conference, the leaders of 197 nations of the world met in Glasgow to search for a way of addressing the climate crisis. During the conference, the path towards net-zero and the importance of private-sector commitments was made apparent.
Under the new ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’, countries committed to accelerating the pace of current decarbonisation plans by pledging to start strengthening their emission-reduction plans targets for 2030 by next year. Moreover, the parties agreed to create a legal framework for a global carbon market and recognised the need to reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions by 45% by 2030. Some considered this pledge as promising, while others saw it as being insufficient to address the climate crisis.
“The final last-minute agreement made between countries at COP26 fell short of those actions recognised by scientists as necessary to limit rising temperatures to 1.5C,” says Simon Robinson, author of Deep Tech and the Amplified Organisation and CEO of Holonomics. “The result is that we are still collectively facing a potential planetary catastrophe, with poorer nations being hit the hardest.” Often, the law follows technology. However, when it comes to addressing climate change, the conferences’ pledges are a call on innovators to develop new technologies that can realise those goals. In cases such as the UK, this call can soon turn into a legal requirement.
Currently, relatively few businesses have yet to make clear, detailed plans for how they will achieve the net-zero commitments of the countries where they operate. However, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak reiterated at COP26 that the Treasury would require UK-listed companies to release net-zero plans by 2023. It is only a matter of time before regulators worldwide follow that example.
“If companies want to make changes for global impact, they need to start reviewing every aspect of their business, all the way down to their software development choices” - Nick Mills
“COP26 marked a turning point in how the private sector regards the climate crisis,” says Simon Daniel, Founder of Moixa. “As we enter into the implementation phase where decisive action needs to be taken by governments and the private sector, it is clear that we are galvanised around a firm goal. If we’re to stand a chance of keeping the increase in global temperature at 1.5C, we need everyone at the table.”
There are many technological solutions that can contribute to reducing carbon emissions, for example by replacing personal computers with low-energy data centres. Moreover, other areas that technological innovation will contribute to include smart cities, mobility and vehicles, energy-efficient architecture and reduced waste in food production and consumption.
The technology sector also has to make itself sustainable. Currently, the modern technology stack is made up of a set of different, complex, and physically distinct components and services provided by a digital and physical supply chain, whose carbon footprint is difficult to measure. Nonetheless, if the net-zero target is to be met, companies will need a specific and detailed plan to achieve it.
“Pledges must be backed up by concrete solutions,” says Nick Mills, General Manager, EMEA at software development platform CircleCI. “If companies want to make changes for global impact, they need to start reviewing every aspect of their business, all the way down to their software development choices.
“Taking action to optimise software delivery is a concrete, actionable, and urgent step all technology firms need to adopt for two reasons: more efficient technology has a huge part to play in reducing resource consumption and depletion, and impacts on climate change. Additionally, it’s just good practice to make better and more efficient services fitted for the modern technology stack. The answers are straightforward, but the execution requires skilled and focused developers collaborating across teams and companies.”
The private sector is under growing scrutiny from both customers and institutional investors when it comes to sustainability efforts. During COP26, UN Secretary-General, António Guterres announced that the UN will establish a “group of experts” to propose clear standards for measuring and analysing net-zero commitments from companies. This will expose the practice known as ‘greenwashing’, create international standards on net-zero and reward those companies who have adopted strong net-zero strategies.
Until now, most of the sustainability commitments have been voluntary. However, the time when they become the law might not be too far ahead and when that happens, companies need to have prepared.
“It all starts with measurement — what gets measured gets managed — once it becomes known where energy is being used, then data can be analysed and steps can be taken to optimise and reduce wastage,” says Sam Gooder, Head of Operations at EP&T Global.
“In essence, net-zero boils down to good measurement of current metrics, improving the performance of assets, improving the renewable mix of the energy used and then offsetting any remainder. As it stands it remains too easy for companies to commit to net-zero and complete this by focussing on the latter two areas; Greenwashing fundamentally won’t solve the climate crisis.”