Cop26 president urges British companies to join UN's Race to Zero campaign

Alok Sharma says the UK cannot meet net zero targets without backing of business

FILE PHOTO: COP26 President Alok Sharma attends an event at Whitelee Windfarm, just outside Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, May 14, 2021. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne/Pool/File Photo
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Britain's Cop26 president Alok Sharma said on Monday that Britain cannot meet its net zero targets without the backing of the private sector.

Mr Sharma urged companies across the UK to join the United Nations’ Race to Zero campaign and commit to science-backed, emissions-reduction targets because the country cannot achieve its green targets "without business behind us”.

“To tackle the climate crisis and reach net zero emissions, we need the innovation, the influence and the energy of the private sector on our side,” Mr Sharma told delegates attending the Road to Net Zero conference hosted by the Confederation of British Industry.

“Let's seize the opportunity to protect our planet, grow our economy and deliver green growth.”

Mr Sharma's call to action comes ahead of the UN Cop26 environmental summit, which Britain will host in Glasgow in November, and just weeks after he chaired a G7 environment ministers' meeting that saw the group commit to end all direct government support for international coal power by the end of this year.

The UK has set the world’s most ambitious climate change target to reduce emissions by 68 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, and by 78 per cent by 2035, and to be net zero by 2050.

This falls in line with the Paris Agreement temperature goal to limit global warming to well below 2°C and pursue efforts towards 1.5°C.

Mr Sharma said since the agreement was signed in 2015, the UK has "not done nearly enough", with the country now using its twin presidency of the G7 and Cop26 to keep the 1.5°C target alive.

“We are seeing results,” he said. “The entire G7 now has net zero targets and short-term emission reduction targets that put them on a path to get there.

"Here in the UK, we've committed to slash our emissions by 78 per cent by 2035, compared to 1990 levels, and we are determined to build back greener as we recover from the pandemic, with the prime minister's plans for a green Industrial Revolution.”

Mr Sharma said the task ahead “could not be more urgent”, and stressed that companies risk being left behind if they do not commit to green targets now.

The Race to Zero campaign brings together a coalition of net zero initiatives from across the world under one umbrella, with the aim to accelerate action in the run up to Cop26.

Representing 708 cities, 24 regions, 2,360 businesses, 163 investors and 624 higher education institutions, its members cover 25 per cent of the world's CO2 emissions, the campaign website shows, with net zero pledges now covering more than 70 per cent of the world's economy.

Joining the campaign is not only good for the planet, “but it's good for your bottom line”, said former UK business secretary Mr Sharma.

“The direction of travel is clear, the world is going green creating enormous opportunities for those on the front foot, while those that do not move fast enough will be left behind,” he said.

“Analysis shows that together 215 of the world's biggest companies have almost a $1 trillion at risk from climate impacts and yet, those same companies have the potential to gain double that amount from the move to green economies.”

Mr Sharma said Race to Zero membership is a clear statement to a company’s customers and investors that they “are serious about climate action”, and urged businesses to encourage their trade associations and suppliers to make a similar green pledge.

“Make a commitment to moving to net zero a condition for doing business with your suppliers, work with them to help them reduce their emissions and help us to drive change in vital sectors, like energy like transport and nature," he said.

“Please switch to clean power, swap polluting vehicles for those that have zero emissions, and commit to removing deforestation from your supply chains."

The CBI urged the government on Monday to publish several key climate policies before November that are holding back green investments worth billions of pounds.

Strategies on heating, hydrogen and decarbonising transport must be published before the UK hosts the Cop26 climate talks in five months, the lobby group for 190,000 UK companies said.

“The delay in some of these strategies is having an impact on investment,” said Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist at the CBI.

“Our overall level of business investment in our economy is one of the weakest in the G7 and that’s something we absolutely do need to address."