The upcoming COP26 summit in Glasgow has gathered a huge amount of media attention with this year’s event seen as vital for the fight against climate change. Countries will be announcing the measures they’ve taken (following the commitments of 2015’s Paris Agreement) as well as presenting clear and ambitious targets for reducing emissions over the years to come. As the start of the conference draws near, voices from various industries have each outlined their specific hopes for the event. But is this process in danger of confusing the perception and expectation of summit’s objectives? Will this, in turn, create a backdrop limiting how much the event can be viewed as a success? Additionally, to what extent do various industries actually need COP24 to address their concerns for sustainability initiatives to be enhanced?
A SUCCESS ALREADY?
In many ways, it could be argued that COP26 has succeeded before its started. Due to being such a milestone event, many businesses (regardless of industry) have viewed the conference as a useful deadline by which to pro-actively assess their own sustainability initiatives or take key steps to becoming as carbon-neutral as possible. The overall publicity around the event has also re-highlighted for many the vital importance of aiming to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees – a continuing objective of the Paris Agreement.
A DISCONNECT IN OBJECTIVES?
The extent to which the summit can truly be deemed a success will largely depend on how well it fulfils it objectives. While this may sound obvious, the issue becomes trickier when we ask where those objectives come from. COP26 has been clear in outlining its own goals: ‘secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach’, ‘adapt to protect communities and natural habitats’, ‘mobilise finance’ and ‘work together to deliver'(1). These four objectives are ambitious and far-reaching and many would say that’s exactly what they need to be. The key issue is whether business and the public accept the summit’s self-declared goals or will they demand their own objectives? Voices in the construction industry, for example, have commented that they are “engaging with partners including the United Nations Climate Champions Team and the Cabinet Office COP Unit to enable the sector to be represented appropriately at the event“(2). Those in the transport industry, as another example, have also voiced their concerns “One of the key points for discussion and scrutiny in November will be the Government’s plan for the decarbonisation of transport“(3). The food industry (as a close example to the Westpak team) has also shared its concerns. For example, Marcus Gover, WRAP CEO has commented, “Much attention will rightly be paid to energy generation and transport at COP26, but we ignore the food system at our peril. There is little talk about the contribution that strategies around food and drink can have to climate action, and it is vital we raise awareness and drive action among policymakers and businesses at COP26“(4).
DOES IT MATTER?
Key international objectives to tackle climate change discussed at the event are clearly vitally important. But what about more industry-specific considerations? As Marcus Gover’s comments highlight, there is of course an importance around the event’s ability to influence policymakers and drive general awareness around issues. However, businesses across various industries – including those in the grocery and foodservice industries – have already shown a huge degree of self-motivation and pro-active engagement with an array of impressive sustainability commitments. As many such initiatives are also, in-part, driven by consumer expectations and preferences, we commonly see a chain reaction of sustainability initiatives across various businesses within an industry as each aims to keep pace with the pack. Such market-led sustainability initiatives have been commonplace for packaging in the grocery industry. For example, supermarkets have maintained a high level of momentum and focus on reducing and removing plastics, as well as offering more recyclable packaging across their ranges. More specific initiatives, such as product refill areas, have also been seen across numerous retailers. Well-established industry bodies have also been instrumental in providing sustainability parameters and targets for the grocery and foodservice industries. Wrap’s ‘Plastic Pact’, for example, has given clear targets for 2025 which every major supermarket has signed up for. These targets include ‘eliminating problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery model’, ‘100% of plastics packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable’, ‘70% of plastics packaging effectively recycled or composted’ and ‘30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging'(5).
OUR HOPES FOR COP26
The sustainability relationship between business and conferences such as COP26 feels closely intertwined. As businesses and consumers will maintain pressure for ambitious targets to be set at such events. Similarly, policies derived from major conferences can further empower brands to accelerate sustainability progress. Our view is one that welcomes limitless change, innovation and evolution across the grocery and foodservice industries. However fast new packaging innovations appear within the market, whether sparked by new industry regulation or through the industry’s own desire for change, we’ll always be ready to not just keep pace with a more sustainable industry, but to also help shape it.