25 Mar 2021

Just over a year ago, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave an address to mark the UK’s long-awaited departure from the EU. Speaking at London’s historic naval centre at Greenwich, Johnson talked about the new opportunities the UK could seize in global trade; and its renewed status as a global power as it went “out into the world”.

In the twelve months since, Johnson and his government have found their efforts to re-establish UK leadership in the world tested in ways they could not have imagined. The COVID crisis and the negotiations over the UK’s future relationship agreement with the EU sapped the bandwidth of ministers and diverted the attention of their officials. But with the UK’s vaccination drive now kicking into high gear and a UK-EU trade deal agreed, Britain is once again ready to look outward.

At the heart of the UK’s pitch for global leadership is its role as convener of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. Deferred to this November as a result of the pandemic, the UK COP presidency aims to build on the global climate framework agreed at Paris in 2015 – delivering the step change needed to cut emissions in line with a 1.5C pathway and ensuring that a variety of sectors, including energy and transport, reduce emissions at pace.

A significant part of the UK’s leadership role will be focussed on Nationally Determined Contributions – commitments made by other nations to cut emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. However, COP negotiations also require non-state actors, including businesses around the world, to play their part. The UK is particularly conscious of this, making growth a core aim of its presidency and indicating a wish to work with companies through a ‘Year of COP’ to speed up energy transitions, drive economies of scale and innovate faster.

COP26 presents the UK with an opportunity to set a new course – and to seize the opportunities that a greener future offers.

From conversations Hanover has had with officials, we know the UK is especially keen to play a leadership role in a number of global campaigns aimed at signing businesses up to climate commitments during 2021. It has encouraged companies and trade associations to align with the UNFCC’s Race to Zero Campaign, led by its High Level Climate Action Champion Nigel Topping. Officials have also highlighted to us their desire to see companies embrace other campaigns under the Race to Zero umbrella, including EV100, which aims to accelerate the drive to electric vehicles, and RE100, which encourages firms to have 100% of their energy powered by renewables.

The UK’s Year of COP framework encompasses a number of high-profile events at which companies can highlight the role they are playing in mainstreaming climate commitments. UK Government officials point in particular to Climate Week NYC, organised by Climate Group, as a major moment on the calendar for the UK Presidency. Organisers of the event have told this will be a primarily digital event, featuring a multi-room event space where businesses can go deeper on climate and sustainability issues. There will also be an Opening Ceremony featuring high-level government and business leaders.

The UK Government is also keen to see businesses participate around the Glasgow summit itself. Officials involved in preparations for the summit have said plans remain for as physical an event as possible, but have expressed enthusiasm for ‘physical-virtual’ events that can break down barriers to participation and make COP more inclusive. The move to a more digital COP means businesses need not rely on a physical presence at the summit – or indeed even in the UK – to align with the aims of the UK Presidency and the Year of COP.

The remainder of 2021 will continue to pose unique challenges for governments and businesses around the world. But for both, the UK’s Year of COP26 offers an opportunity to set a new course – and to seize the opportunities that a greener future offers.