Glass half full: Cornell’s delegation to COP26 returns informed, inspired
Last month, 10 Cornell professors traveled to Glasgow, Scotland to attend the United Nations climate summit, COP26, where they met with policymakers, business representatives, researchers and activists around the world – all trying to fine-tune the finer details of the Paris Agreement and refine global commitments to tackle climate change.
As governments discussed the billions of dollars they were allocating to meet existing commitments, advocates called for even more urgent action – citing the trillions of dollars needed each year to prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius . They put pressure on negotiators, trying to convince parties from all sectors to close the gap.
Glen Dowell, Henrietta Johnson Louis management professor, noticed a marked shift in corporate conversations from COP23, which he also attended in 2017.
“In previous years, the discussion has focused on whether there is a business case for taking climate action,” he said. âNow in a lot of companies – even the big emitters – the conversations are about how to achieve goals, how to report and how to get to the scale we need. “
Investors pay more attention to companies’ carbon commitments, said Dowell, and once a standardized accountability system is in place, they can then put even more pressure on companies with insufficient effort. .
In 2020, the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, has taken a public stand. CEO Larry Fink has publicly explained that the risks of climate change pose a clear threat to the growth of businesses around the world. As the holder of $ 9.5 trillion in assets, BlackRock has said it intends to bring about top-down changes in the companies they invest in. The move sparked broader conversations about the systemic actions that need to be taken, as well as how operating more sustainably becomes less of a risk and more of an opportunity.
âWhat investors see as a reward is changing [too]Said Mark Milstein, faculty director of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. âIn the investment community, the money will come from the adoption and diffusion of decarbonization technologies, which will ultimately become the products and services that will fuel business growth and simultaneously tackle climate change. “
In Glasgow, Mike Hoffmann noticed another key player: McDonald’s. âThey are the largest restaurant chain in the world and operate in over 100 countries,â he said.
Hoffmann is Emeritus Professor of Entomology at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the lead author of âOur Changing Menu: Climate Change and the Foods We Love and Needâ.
He met with McDonald’s Global Impact Manager, who spoke about their commitment to changing the way they source and serve meals to 65 million customers per day. With a common interest in driving social and environmental change through food, Hoffmann said this type of individual organization has enormous potential for partnership.
“We need to reach out to these big companies because they are the game changers on climate change, with government action,” he said. âBut businesses are changing much faster than governments. “
Danielle Eiseman, guest speaker in the Department of Communications and co-author of âOur Changing Menu,â agreed on the need to work with organizations that have more agency to act on their own. “The most important groups to reach now for concrete action are those who can create the most significant and rapid change in terms of reducing emissions,” she said.
Energy and transport are areas that will benefit from the international community’s commitments to green technologies, broad policy reform and further investments in sustainability.
âInvestors see future growth in energy and non-fossil fuel sources,â Milstein said. “For the most part, international development and investment banks have shifted money to low- and no-carbon solar, wind, geothermal, battery, and emerging technologies.”
However, this is where Buz Barstow, Assistant Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, noticed significant obstacles that future COPs will face.
âWe’re going to have to rebuild the century-old energy system that we already have. It will have to be replaced by 2050. And then it will have to be replaced four or five times. [by 2100] to take into account the growing wealth of the developing world, âhe said. “I didn’t get the impression that policymakers had any idea of ââthis.”
Such explosive innovation and widespread adoption will take decades, and just like the rise of the internet, the clean energy revolution does not come with a roadmap. But Barstow said being at COP26, chatting with different delegations and seeing the rise of the youth movement helped underline the importance and urgency of stepping up efforts for the climate in all. sectors.
âFor most of our history we have been a small disturbance to the biosphere. What we are becoming now is a force of nature, âhe said. “And by the end of the century, we will be the force of nature on earth.”
Outside of energy, to drive lasting global change, Eiseman said broad communication strategies must embrace people-centered models and humanize the challenges that so many communities face.
In Glasgow, billboards, buses and local businesses are on a mission to share climate change messages. Yet in regions of the world where these facts are less welcomed and where environmental activists face high rates of persecution and violence, the formal policies developed at COP26 are essential to protect vulnerable voices.
“The central objective [of the UN] is to ensure that human rights are protected in the policy-making process and that inequalities, discrimination and unjust power are eliminated, âshe said. âIt is important to include this language and framework to help protect those who are threatened by speaking out. “
Funding to organize the Cornell COP26 delegation was provided by the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. Dowell, Milstein, Hoffmann, Eiseman, and Barstow are also faculty members at the center. Learn more about the delegation’s experience at COP26 in this recorded webinar
Jana Wiegand is a freelance writer for the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.