COP26: Energy team at property consultants propose six outcomes they’d like to see

Mike Reid, Partner of Galbraith and Head of its Energy team

AS Scotland prepares to host COP26, a team from Galbraith, the independent property consultancy, describe some outcomes they’d like to see.

In November Glasgow will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Partners (COP26), bringing together heads of state, climate experts and campaigners to agree coordinated action to accelerate progress on climate change in line with the Paris Agreement and the goals set out by the UN, which can be summarised as:

  • Secure net zero greenhouse gas emissions – those thought primarily responsible for climate change – by mid-century and keep a limit of 1.5°C on warming;
  • Adapt activity and lifestyle to protect communities and natural habitats;
  • Mobilise finance to deliver the above; and
  • Work together to achieve these aims.

The conference is the most significant event to tackle climate change since the 2015 Paris Agreement. As advisers to rural land and property businesses, Galbraith describes some COP26 outcomes most likely to deliver the intended goals.

While the conference will likely demand ambitious 2030 emissions reductions for reaching net zero by mid-century, it will be for individual countries to put these targets into effect.

  1. Invest global, act local

Global investors are acting on climate change, making billions of dollars of finance available for decarbonisation.

The challenge is that many of the solutions are at local scale, either inaccessible by outside investors or difficult to generate a return for them. Moreover, since big money means big power, there is a risk that the smaller national or local businesses are effectively, and perhaps unintentionally, ‘bought out’ in the process of implementing climate solutions.

Whether it’s an old-fashioned tax or an innovative mechanism – a ‘COP contract’ – we would like to see COP26 develop a global framework to deliver big investment to tackle problems at local scale. From the work Galbraith is currently involved with, that might be implementing sustainable farming systems or creating urban tree canopies, sustainable transport systems, and climate-resilient, low-carbon housing stock for whole cities.

Above all, measures must be accessible to local property owners and businesses, so that collectively, they work at scale in order to have an impact on climate change.

  1. UK as a climate leader

This is an opportunity for the UK to use the conference as a base for building a structure for reaching net zero which other countries can use as an example.

Scotland has a major role to play in this structure with its abundance of renewable resources, and Galbraith are advising property and land owners on how to realise this potential. Meanwhile, England is making headway with farming subsidies in the radical move away from the Common Agricultural Policy towards environmental land management schemes (ELMS) and Natural Capital.

While the UK, and Scotland in particular, has an abundance of renewable energy potential, are we truly making the most of it?  Offshore wind is making an increasing contribution to generation, but further innovation needs to be encouraged if we are to make the radical changes necessary to abandon fossil fuels. 

  1. Practical legislation

The Scottish Government has delayed confirmation of Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards for private rented property. The draft legislation was published in 2019 but has not yet been approved by the Scottish Parliament.

Improving energy efficiency in buildings is essential to reduce emissions but hard to achieve due to the level of investment needed to upgrade the UK’s older housing stock. Scotland’s Green Party Minister has announced an intention to extend the requirements to all privately and publicly owned buildings and the detail is yet to be seen; however, given that less than half of Scotland’s homes are rated EPC band C or better, there is much to do.

Making such radical changes will be problematic and the estimated £33billion to transform Scotland’s buildings alone is an eyewatering sum.  Nevertheless, early and detailed consideration of how this is to be achieved needs to be at the top of the political agenda.

  1. Develop carbon-capturing supply chains

The efficiency and viability of renewable energy installations is improving daily and the world needs to proceed with implementing schemes to harness our natural resources. Yet industry cannot be decarbonised through renewable energy alone; while the extraction of minerals can cause environmental problems aside from CO2 emissions.

Much of the answer may be regenerative supply chains, which not only reduce carbon but can even capture it. These include farming practices to rebuild soil carbon and expanding forests so as to harvest timber and reduce our reliance on minerals.

We would like to see COP26 set targets for the proportion of global commodities produced from regenerative systems, helping farmers and land owners implement measures to tackle climate change while providing wholesome, locally produced food for the nation.

  1. Sustainable diets

Sustainable diets have the potential to significantly impact carbon emissions, but change is dependent on public engagement.

One of the key changes is sustainably produced local produce, with a consideration for how food is produced and the distance it needs to travel reflected in trade agreements. Production of goods has always been actual cost- and profit-margin driven, with less regard for the environmental impact of producing overseas and the consequential food miles.

We should consider adding the environmental cost, of production and transport, to the cheaper imported price when it reaches the shelf to, inform consumers of the overall cost and hopefully encourage more localised, sustainable production. Providing support for lamb, beef and dairy producers to assess and improve their sustainability credentials would help to increase their profile with those now looking for sustainability in food.

  1. Sustainable agricultural support

With the UK’s departure from the European Union and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) we now have a domestic agricultural subsidy regime. As a result of COP26, we would like to see an agricultural subsidy regime introduced that balances the demands of the environment and climate change with that of food production.

As an example, the introduction of a more localised approach to the environmental parameters set by the subsidy scheme which allow for the much more efficient deployment of capital beyond the previous “one size fits all” approach of the CAP.

“Overall, we need to understand how we are contributing to climate change in order to proactively do something to assist,” said Mike Reid, Partner of Galbraith and Head of its Energy team. “We need to understand our emissions and the impact we’re having on the climate then work out how we can improve it. In order to reach net zero, there is a need to de-centralise this and let individuals, businesses and nations know how they can play their part.”

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