Will COP26 lead to actionable take-aways or be a dine-in and leave with an empty stomach experience? Reflections of a CEO new to COP26

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Credit: VELUX Group

David Briggs is the CEO of The VELUX Group.

This is my first COP and I am hopeful of a positive outcome – one which results in conciliation and commitment, rather than retaliation and despair. What participants bring to COP tables is important, but what they take away to enact upon is of greater importance. Ultimately, COP26 should result in a clear roadmap for climate action with strong commitments. We have already seen some positive signs with more than 100 world leaders promising to end and reverse deforestation by 2030.

We particularly welcome this recent pledge by leaders. At VELUX Group, we are already contributing to conserving and restoring forests through our unique 20-year partnership with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Our first forest regeneration project is in Uganda’s Albertine Rift and when implemented, it will capture approximately 1 million tonnes of CO2.

It is one of several forest and biodiversity projects around the world initiated by VELUX to capture 5.6 million tonnes CO2, equal to our company’s scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions from 1941 to 2041. On our 100-year anniversary, VELUX Group will be Lifetime Carbon Neutral.

The heat is on
There’s no doubt that similar forest initiatives are needed around the world, however in isolation they are not enough to help us reach our climate commitments. We need plenty of innovation and new technologies to reduce and, best case, eliminate carbon emissions (scope 1, 2 and 3).

We need this soon too, because the latest UNEP Emissions Gap Report indicates that it might already be too late to achieve the 1.5C global temperature increase target, set by the Paris Agreement, and the world could be heading instead for at least a 2.7°C increase in temperature this century. The report is entitled ‘The Heat is On’ and I couldn’t agree more.

With states seemingly overwhelmed by some of the greatest challenges of our time, I believe that companies need to step up and be part of the solution. That’s what consumers increasingly, and rightly so, expect. It’s also the best way to future-proof businesses, while doing good for our planet. But it’s not easy and difficult decisions need to be taken.

How the building industry can be part of the solution
In the building industry – where VELUX operates – change often feels like it will come well into the future and far too slow to make a positive difference. The industry is responsible for over a third (38%) of the world’s entire CO2 emissions and contributed record breaking CO2 emissions in 2019[i]. From what I can see, emissions are likely to keep increasing unless we can collectively change. Being part of the solution means identifying, ‘what will drive the most change?’ For us at VELUX, this means equally prioritising the climate and nature crises.

This year, we proudly announced a 59% reduction in our company’s carbon footprint, compared to the 2007-baseline, thereby exceeding our 2020 goal by 9 percentage points. Concerning our future carbon emissions, we have gone further by setting ambitious targets to reduce scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. Through our sustainability strategy 2030, we are engaging our organisation and partners to help deliver on these targets. Furthermore, by signing up to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and the Business ambition for 1.5C, we have demonstrated our unyielding commitment. For us, reducing scope 1 and 2 emissions is fairly easy but scope 3 emission reductions are more challenging, because this requires getting our value chain on board.

Following up on our target to become a 100 percent carbon neutral company (scope 1 and 2 emissions) by 2030, we partnered this year with Schneider Electric to help us source the equivalent of 100% renewable electricity by 2023 to achieve our RE100 target and to develop a global programme with zero-carbon action plans for each of our factory sites to successfully reduce their energy use and scale renewable capacity.

A cascade effect – the fastest way towards a better world                                                                    The carbon emissions VELUX does not own or control (scope 3) represent a significant hurdle, since they amount to 94% of our total CO2 emissions. Tackling scope 3 emissions in the building industry, where there are often many suppliers involved in finished products is not easy, but it is the right thing to do. I hope that our efforts will inspire others and lead to a cascade effect involving suppliers’ suppliers.

I look forward to continuing discussions with peers at COP26 and beyond about the role of the building materials and construction sector to reduce carbon emissions and decarbonise buildings, the need to address scope 3 emissions (not just scope 1 and 2), and the benefits of cross sectoral partnerships to achieve this.

Remaining positive to achieve more faster
Armed with great words and good deeds to reach the Climate Agreement, many leaders at COP26 will seek inspiration; others will want confirmation that what they are doing to address climate change is the right way forward.

No matter what leaders of governments, organisations or companies bring to COP26 tables, the question is will they converge or diverge and, more importantly, will they make binding commitments to do better upon their return? I prefer to be optimistic, because positivity tends to result in a willingness to act, which we really need. I hope that I leave feeling full with actionable ideas instead of an empty stomach.

See more about VELUX Group’s activities at COP26.

[i] https://globalabc.org/sites/default/files/inline-files/2020%20Buildings%20GSR_FULL%20REPORT.pdf

 

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