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Is it really all blah, blah, blah? – My reflections of COP26

By Joanne Linehan, HR Business Partner at E.ON UK

We will have all seen Greta’s speech on the news but having been at COP26 for the past week I wanted to take stock from what I’ve seen first-hand. I have followed Blue Zone and CBI events online and attended Green Zone, Holyrood Fringe Festival, Energy Networks Association and Sustainable Innovation Forum events in person as well as visiting the University of Strathclyde. I witnessed protests and spoke to some of the organisers to understand more about what they stood for.

I came to learn and didn’t want to waste a second of this opportunity. My first reflection is that this has been a really powerful week for me. Being an HR professional I came to Glasgow with a focus on Green Jobs and actually found myself immersed in the technology, global markets, the history of COP and the climate activism movements going back to the 1970’s. I’ve heard Dr Jane Goodall, DBE, speak with poise and passion about waste and urging young people to go back to reusing and mending items instead of fast fashion and a ‘chuck it and get a new one’ mentality. I’ve also seen my E.ON colleague, Stefan Hakansson challenge council leaders to do more to tackle waste and not let up when they shook their heads at him. It was quite a moment and it’s one that I wish I had seen more of.

This leads me to my second reflection. Much has been spoken about collaboration during COP26 in order to reach our climate goals. Collaboration between governments and the private sector, all agreeing that the sheer volume and complexity of stakeholders required to implement the technology needed in regions to lower carbon is vast. Is it really collaboration though when one side is the customer and one side is the supplier? Stefan stood out from others when he challenged. The other standouts for me were Georgia Yexley from Tier who questioned herself whilst on stage about whether she should answer the question the way she wanted to and potentially upset the hundreds of council leaders she wanted to become customers. I’m pleased to say she went for it and said to Cllr. Ricky Bell from Glasgow City Council that the red tape and process was just too slow. In fairness, Ricky Bell was another stand out when he said “I need £38m to do what we need to do in Glasgow and I have no idea where I’m going to get it from.”. Some other events have had very polite discussions, raising good points and sharing knowledge, but not enough challenge. We need to be willing to ask the tough questions, even if relationships are at stake. I stopped myself writing a LinkedIn post about an Executive from the private sector who’s controversial comments on stage earned him a few side glances from his fellow speakers. I wanted to check if he was a customer or not. So I’m left with the question “How are we going to hold each other to account?”.

My final reflection is about action. Beverley Gower-Jones from the Clean Growth Fund said: "the biggest thing you can do for climate change, bigger than becoming vegetarian, bigger than not flying on planes, is ask your pension to invest in climate tech." A statistic used many times during COP26 is “If food waste was a country, then it would be the 3rd largest emitter of carbon in the world”. I talked to the leader of a protest group who said that they were there to represent the people in the world who don’t have a voice or a seat at the table. I’ve listened to countless young people talk about what they want to see from employers and from government and what is important to them. Well, I have a pension, I have food waste, I find recycling and putting the bins out a chore I don’t enjoy. I can change and I can take action on these things in my own life. In my job, I have a focus on diversity and inclusion and making our organisation attractive to new talent. With a fresh perspective I can ask myself ‘am I doing enough?’.

I have connected with people from Universities, from other organisations and from local and central government during my time at COP26 and am going to follow up on these conversations. I’ve already got some appointments organised. I will take action following COP26 and I can see that replicated with so many of the people that have been at these events with me. There is good business being done here. There is sharing of knowledge and a willingness to support each other. As I’m writing this the negotiations are still to be finalised and I’m hearing will go on longer than expected. I attended a lecture by Dr Renate Christ, former Director for IPCC and from their analysis of the science, the current commitments from COP26 will take us to 2.2 degrees warming. It’s not enough but is it all blah, blah, blah? Not from everyone, no. You can see clearly who is serious about taking action for climate and who isn’t. And whether we’re willing to risk customer relationships or not, we know who they are. Stop talking about the cost of action and start talking about the cost of inaction. You know who you are. And the world is watching.

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