By Abigail Hardcastle

Climate change is arguably the biggest risk facing us and future generations. Storms, floods, and wildfires are intensifying across the world, we are seeing the threats to people’s homes and livelihoods continuing to increase and new studies suggests that 10 million people are dying each year due to air pollution, yet, we are not acting fast enough. Cop26 however, aims to accelerate our response.

Cop26 is the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties which is due to commence in Glasgow this year on the 31st of October through to the 12th of November. The event is widely viewed as the last and best chance to get climate change under control. The UN has brought almost every country in the world together annually, with 190 world leaders expected to arrive in Scotland this year to reach an agreement on how to tackle climate change. The main targets in this year’s conference are to drive down emissions to meet net zero by the mid-century, start planning adaptations to protect people and nature, mobilise trillions in finance, particularly to aid poorer countries in their green journey and encourage collaboration and cooperation between governments, businesses, and civil society.

Cop26 is of particular importance this year as it is the first time that world governments have been asked to raise their climate targets since the landmark Paris Agreement of 2015. An agreement which pledged to keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees to avoid devastating impacts on the planet, an endeavour we are not on track to achieve. A particular theme of this year’s conference is the concept of achieving ‘net-zero’, which is effectively means that the amount of greenhouse gases we add to the atmosphere is no more than the amount we take away, a feat which 70% of the world economy is dedicated to achieving.

At Cop21 in 2015, governments formally recognised that the only way we can rise to the challenge of climate change is by everyone working together. Cities, regions, businesses, investors, and universities are advised to join the UN’s Race to Zero campaign, a campaign committed to halving emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 at the very latest. The University of Hull has pledged an ambitious plan themselves to become carbon neutral by 2027, one of the earliest net-zero targets made by Universities in the UK. The University has since revealed they are ahead of this target with the latest annual carbon output showing to be significantly lower than the 12,599 tonne benchmark required last year to remain on target.

Businesses including higher education establishments are set to lead the change needed, with Cop26 being likely to have a massive impact on businesses across the world. This will likely include the promotion of new legislation to achieve net-zero, the requirement to start or accelerate their carbon reduction journey, making finance for businesses who are not green enough harder to access and encouraging investors to apply more pressure on businesses to ‘go green’. Whilst unsustainable businesses pose a massive risk to climate change, in turn, climate change poses a risk on a business’ profitability. Businesses are increasingly taking ESG (environment, social and governance) factors into account to improve non-profit related success and investment opportunities. It is becomingly increasingly more apparent that the more sustainable a business is, the more likely it is to succeed due to the likelihood of investment, and so it is in a company’s best interest to be aware of Cop26’s reach and adapt to meet its needs. In addition, the effects of Cop26 will likely stretch far and wide, and what it may mean for the world could include changes such as investing in clean energy (for example, wind and solar), shifting towards electric car models, protecting nature and everyone making a more conscious effort to reduce their emissions and be greener.

Green growth is real and effective, shown particularly by the UK government who is leading the race to net-zero, growing the economy by 78% whilst cutting emissions by 44%. The UK was also the first country to pledge a reduction of carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 and just three years from now, completely phasing out coal power. Whilst governmental action is clear, you may wonder what you can do as individuals to help accelerate the race to net-zero. There is a wide variety of actions you could take from incorporating relatively small changes in your lifestyle for example, reducing food and water waste, buying energy efficient bulbs and appliances, and walking or taking public transport to University, or making slightly bigger changes such as powering your home with renewable energy, buying from sustainable sources such as sustainable fashion brands, speaking up by voicing your concerns about the environment, and driving an electric or fuel-efficient vehicle. If you are interested in learning more or following exactly what this conference could achieve, over 200 events are due to take place in the Green Zone which can be virtually joined on their YouTube channel, ‘Cop26’.