COP 26: What it Means for Us

"May I just say to all delegates: I apologise for the way this process has unfolded, and I am deeply sorry." – Alok Sharma, COP26 President after announcing the Glasgow Climate Pact

At COP26, 197 nations met in Glasgow to negotiate a global response to the climate crisis. As the quote above suggests, however, the event’s landmark agreement has been met with mixed reviews. We look at the good and the bad of what this deal and the other agreements mean in our sector.

The Glasgow Climate Pact is the first to directly mention cutting fossil fuels. It commits to phasing down related subsidies and unabated coal (i.e., coal that’s not balanced with carbon capture and storage). The message was weakened at the last minute, but it just about keeps the goal of limiting warming to 1.5⁰C alive, especially with the plans to strengthen commitments next year. Achieving this goal is crucial to minimise the worst impacts of climate change like heatwaves, biodiversity loss, and sea-level rise (there’s more on this in this great blog).

But there were several drawbacks. The last-minute change to commit only to phasing down coal, rather than phasing it out altogether was disappointing, as it will make the 1.5⁰C target harder to achieve. Initial calculations suggest these agreements will mean we’ll be closer to 2.4⁰C warming by the end of the century. While this is far from ideal, the Pact is still progress, and it’s important we build upon it.

  1. International Sustainability Standards Board

This will be a new standard for sustainability reporting to avoid greenwashing and ensure information is comparable across industries. When it launches next year, companies will report their sustainability performance more robustly and consistently, which will improve environmental performance across the industry.

  1. Green Grids Initiative

This agreement will create an interconnected global grid that connects high-supply areas with high-demand areas. Improving access to renewables will reduce the in-use emissions of IT hardware, making the embodied carbon (emissions from production) the major area of focus for further improvements. As a result, refurbished hardware will become even more important, as it avoids most embodied emissions. Building the grid in the first place, however, is likely to require a lot of enterprise-level hardware. Hopefully, this is done as sustainably as possible using solutions like our server-efficiency tool, Interact.

  1. Education and Environment Ministers’ Summit

Integrating sustainability and climate change into formal education and professional training is the focus of this agreement. There will also be a Duke-of-Edinburgh-style “Climate Leaders’ Award” to recognise students’ environmental protection work. This is great news for all industries, as it will ensure that the next generation of employees are carbon literate. We’re very happy to see this, as reflects our work towards to the UN Global Goal for Quality Education.

  1. Urban Transitions Mission

This mission will deliver 50+ large-scale models to guide cities towards Net Zero by addressing housing, transport, energy and materials access, production and consumption, and industry. Once again, powerful IT hardware will be crucial for this to work, and this must be sustainably sourced and used.

  1. Zero-emission transport

The last key agreement will ensure all new cars and vans are zero emissions (by 2035 in developed nations and 2040 globally) and establish 6+ zero-emission shipping routes within 4 years. Because IT hardware relies on complex global supply chains, this could significantly drive down the carbon footprint.

Is this enough to stop climate change?

In short, no. They don’t go far enough alone, so it’s down to businesses, NGOs, research institutes, and everyday people to continue to drive innovations and pressure governments.

We were disappointed to see limited discussion of the circular economy and no mention at all of e-waste, despite the fact that it is building up by over 53-million tons every year. For us, this is a central area that we remain committed to improving.

A more fundamental issue is that much of this relies on carbon-removal technology that doesn’t exist yet. As reported in the FT, these agreements will require 8-times more clean energy and 600-times more carbon capture and storage than we can achieve today. As a result, it’s more important than ever before that we move towards energy efficiency and digital sobriety.