COP26 Week 1: Key Outputs

* 5 min read
The world’s eyes have all been on Glasgow this week, waiting expectantly (or, in some cases, sceptically) for the first news of COP26, and it’s safe to say there has been no shortage of news!

Week 1 of the Climate Change Conference has been dominated by a frenzy of announcements, with world leaders making big, bold pledges to deliver on the Paris Agreement and move towards Net Zero by 2050. So, with little under a week to go before COP26 concludes this Friday, what are the key outputs so far?

There have been calls for some time for developed nations with high GDP (naturally also amongst the highest polluters) to lead the way in terms of climate commitments and the journey to Net Zero. Week 1 of COP26 has certainly delivered on this, with the US leading the monumental Deforestation Deal and the UK announcing the launch of the Global Plastics Policy Centre in Portsmouth.

In the first major deal of the conference on November 2nd, more than 100 world leaders committed last week to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. Combined, signatories of the pledge cover more than 85% of the world’s forests, and billions of pounds have been pledged to ‘help unleash the potential of forests and sustainable land use’.

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Just 2 days later, the University of Portsmouth announced its Global Plastics Policy Centre, aiming to help find sustainable solutions to tackle plastic pollution around the world. The institute will provide data and evidence needed for policy makers to make more informed decisions around plastic policies, such as Plastic Taxes, EPR and material restrictions/bans. Incidentally, this also coincided with the UK Government releasing additional 6-step guidance for businesses on the UK Plastic Tax due to come into force in April 2022.

Without a doubt, both these COP26 initiatives will have a profound impact on the packaging industry. It is promising to see that a holistic view of materials and resources has been taken, but inevitably, this will make the already complex decisions on packaging even harder to navigate. In my opinion, focusing on making the best choices to reduce overall environmental impact is absolutely the right and responsible thing to do. But with deforestation and plastic policy both under scrutiny, what will this mean for those who have adopted a ‘plastic to paper’ packaging strategy?

One thing is clear, we need to focus on finding the right material solutions at a more granular level. To do this, decision making must be driven by real data and take into account all relevant factors, of course without being cost prohibitive. We in the industry have a responsibility to look beyond the influence of consumer perception (which is not always a reflection of the most sustainable choice) and remain objective, striving to select the most appropriate and sustainable packaging material for each unique product.

In COP26, it’s not just government regulation and national commitments driving change that will impact our industry; global brands and retailers have also been joining the movement through the Race to Zero Breakthroughs: Retail Campaign. The initiative is in partnership with COP26 and with support from The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and is led by retailers such as Walmart, H&M Group and Ingka Group (IKEA), pledging to drive climate action within the retail industry and achieve 1.5 degree aligned carbon reduction targets.

The remainder of COP26 will be much more of a behind closed doors affair, with governments, NGOs, citizens and businesses drawing up the plans to ensure these commitments can be delivered upon to limit the temperature curve to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

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Although many activists have branded COP26 a ‘failure’ before it has even concluded, my personal opinion is ‘so far, so good’. It’s easy for critics to call such a gathering of powerful stakeholders frivolous or a PR stunt with no substance, but the truth is that to deliver real change, we absolutely need leadership on a global scale, and COP26 is the best (and only) forum for it.

Yes, it’s true that previous COP’s have not achieved their full potential, but this time feels different. This time, there is a real shift in focus from talk to action, because, frankly speaking, we have no choice if we want to protect our planet. I, for one, remain hopeful that the positive momentum from week 1 continues and that what comes out of these last few days of COP26 will allow us to make concrete plans and deliver on these bold commitments, within packaging and beyond.

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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