COP26: Global Hot Topic

* 5 min read
Unless you’ve been on total media blackout for the past few months, you will be well aware of the global hot topic at the moment: COP26.

The UK is currently hosting the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), running from 31 October – 12 November 2021. Tens of thousands of delegates including world leaders, government representatives, businesses and citizens have descended on Glasgow, right on our doorstep (and almost literally on my own doorstep, with the conference taking place just 15 minutes from home). Delegates will participate in 2 weeks of intensive talks and negotiations to tackle major issues impacting climate change, including energy, transport, youth and public empowerment and mobilisation of finance.


While my social feed is currently full of sensationalist headlines about upcoming protests, local travel disruption and heightened security requirements, what does COP26 really mean for us on a personal level as global citizens, how we do business, and the future direction of the packaging industry?

One thing is clear, COP26 is one of the most pivotal moments for influencing climate change since the Paris Agreement was born in 2015 at COP21. In 2015, for the first time in history, countries big and small united to introduce legally binding commitments on emissions reductions to cut global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and ideally to 1.5 degrees. That’s not to say that a rise of 1.5 degrees won’t still cause severe impacts that we need to face into, but anything beyond this would be simply catastrophic, resulting in major loss and damage to life, livelihoods and natural habitats.

However, since this bold commitment in 2015, simply not enough has been done to progress towards actually achieving these targets. President-Designate Alok Sharma stated himself in the foreword to the conference that COP26 ‘needs to be decisive’ and can’t just be ‘another talking shop’, and I couldn’t agree more. If we are to tackle these issues globally, this conference absolutely must lead to real action to deliver tangible and measured results. 


Image source: The Verge

More than 70% of the world is now covered by net zero targets, but this means nothing unless we can come together and collectively deliver on them. Put bluntly:

The next decade is absolutely critical: to reach the 1.5 degree target, we must collectively halve global emissions in the next decade, and reach net zero by 2050.
GC1Gillian Orr - Sun Strategy

While the world is still reeling from the ongoing impacts of Covid, many had expected climate change and sustainability to take a back seat. But that is far from the truth – it is more important than ever, and I hope that COP26 could be the start of real change. Climate change represents just as much of a real threat to life if we don’t act now and act big. Covid recovery also presents us with a unique and (hopefully) once in a lifetime opportunity! As governments plan for economic recovery post-pandemic, now is the time for reflection and a shift in focus to greener strategies. In my opinion, this is our best chance to transform ambition into action.

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Image source: Unsplash - Margot Richard

COP26’s main focus may be on macro level issues such as the phaseout of coal, encouraging investment in renewables, curtailing deforestation switching to electric vehicles, but packaging also has an important part to play in limiting emissions. From increasing recycling infrastructure and improving consumer education to food waste prevention and material/structural optimisation, packaging can make a huge difference.

Overall, what I hope to see from COP26 is renewed drive, commitment and investment for real change and the introduction of measurable targets that can be tracked and quantified. This need is also just as real for packaging, with upcoming EPR legislation in the majority of global markets necessitating transparency and accuracy of data and estimates no longer being accepted. If we don’t put the right metrics in place, we risk being in the same place as we are now, where it has been ‘all talk and no action’ with little evidence of follow-through, meaning targets are likely to be missed.

I also have faith that hosting COP26 here in the UK will lead to increased public education and willingness to make a difference as individuals: being so close to home, it has certainly made me think of what I can do differently to make more educated and sustainable choices in my life. In the great Sir David Attenborough’s words (who is also COP26 People’s Advocate), this is our chance to ‘turn tragedy into triumph’, and we can all play a part in that.


Image source - The Scotsman

About the author

imageedit 1 6168940299Gillian Orr – Lead Sustainability Consultant

Gill is a lead consultant, dedicated to providing clients with sustainable packaging strategy, process mapping / improvement and decoding the complex arena of global packaging regulation. She has experience across FMCG, food service and branded clients globally, implementing teams, processes and strategies to drive efficiency while ensuring transparency and integrity of packaging data through technology. Her solution-led, detail-oriented and collaborative approach ensures our clients receive the best possible advice to meet their sustainability targets and reduce waste - in all senses of the word. 

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