IEMA make their mark at COP26

11th November 2021


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Chris Seekings

IEMA made their presence felt at COP26, with various representatives and members bringing their expertise to a number of events throughout the two-week conference.

Policy and engagement lead, Nick Blyth, facilitated a side event during the opening week, organised by IEMA, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and Consumers International: 'Building back a net-zero resilient economy through Governance, Policy, Standards, Skills & Inclusion'.

The panellists discussed the importance of an economy-wide approach to tackling the climate crisis, and how international standards can help fast-track the transition. IEMA CEO, Sarah Mukherjee, talked about the skills required to implement standards in practice, highlighting how companies are now desperate for sustainability professionals to train and develop existing staff at “lightening speed”.

“These are not skills that can be developed or acquired overnight – greenwash won't work with shareholders or consumers,” she said. “This is about being, professional, principles-based, and making the internal business case with integrity and cultural awareness.”

Mukherjee discusses the skills needed for implementing standards

Touching on IEMA's call for a comprehensive green jobs and skills strategy, Mukherjee outlined how a “far more strategic response” is required to embed climate change and environmental protection and improvement across the whole training and life-long education system. “The strategy must be underpinned by ambitious, long-term environmental and climate policies that give business the certainty to invest in improvements that will create new green jobs. The strategy must ensure that all parts of society have access to the emerging green jobs and skills opportunities – tackling diversity and inclusion must be an integral part of the agenda.”

She admitted that the sustainability profession has an “awfully long way to go to fully reflect the communities we serve”, and pointed to IEMAs Diverse Sustainability Initiative as an example of how the Institute is looking to drive real change. “Our members around the world tell us it's a profession that's not embracing social or cultural diversity fully. Without this, in my view, we will not be sustainable in the long-term. We must be speaking with, and not to, the communities we wish to serve with respect and understanding if we are really going to make progress towards a cleaner, more sustainable world.”

Mukherjee speaks at Scania's Net Zero Transport Conference

The importance of boosting diversity and inclusion within the sustainability profession was reiterated by Mukherjee when she spoke at Scania's Net Zero Transport Conference during the second week of the COP26 summit. “Undiverse organisations fail in the short term or the long term. We see it again, again and again. The more diverse you are, the more chance you have to have honest conversations. It's not just another bit of greenwashing – it absolutely matters to the long-term sustainability and success of your industry.”

Hosted at Scania’s first zero-emission heavy goods vehicle (HGV) garage near Motherwell, those in attendance, or watching via livestream, heard from industry influencers, partners and customers about the collaboration required across the transport sector as it transitions to net zero.

The UK government has confirmed that all new non-zero emission heavy good vehicles weighing 26 tonnes and under will be phased out by 2035, and that all new HGVs will be zero-emission by 2040. Mukherjee spoke about how the tight targets will require big changes, and said that a good place to start is by referring to IEMA’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Hierarchy. She said that companies must look to first eliminate emissions where they can, before jumping to offset solutions. “You would be surprised, perhaps, about how much low-hanging fruit there is, at lots of organisations, such as looking at when you need to keep the lights on, or making sure you have appropriate public transport for your staff,” she continued. “Compensation has to be the last step. There are a lot of people coming into the market now offering offsetting solutions without necessarily having a really rigorous back story and rigorous processes themselves.”

She went on to pose five questions that all organisations need to ask themselves as they transition: What is your emissions baseline? What are the risks? Do you understand the potential impacts? Are you embedding the transition into all your operations? Do you have a proper action plan? “Most of our members have been banging on the door at their organisations saying, 'we are environmental and sustainability professionals, listen to us', now the door is not only open, but all the CEOs are saying, 'come in, sit down, tell us what to do, let's do it now'. If you are an environmental professional out there, you are gold dust, believe me, get on LinkedIn! You will find out how net-positive you are in the jobs market.”

Blyth and Foot discuss the role of standards in real economy

Travel disruption failed to stop the IEMA CEO from also hosting a UNFCCC event, albeit virtually, during the final week of the summit, which again focused on the role of standards in the real economy. Those in attendance heard about a new initiative. our2050world. Led by ISO, the British Standards association and the Race to Zero campaign, this is designed to support non-state actors by improving guidance and mapping to existing standards, aligning these with net zero while influencing the wider global system.

John Foot, IEMA Fellow and chair of its Climate Change and Energy Network, discussed how standards fit into IEMA's GHG emissions hierarchy, while Blyth gave more details about the role of standards in the real economy, and key areas of focus for practitioners. A fascinating question and answer session then took place, with Mukherjee commenting: “Standards are vital to the work they provide, giving consistency and a single-point of reference. They are created and developed in a truly democratic fashion, and the mutual recognition across sectors and nations is absolutely fundamental to the trust and confidence for businesses and consumers and supply chains alike.”

Mukherjee hosts UNFCCC event

Watch Building back a net-zero resilient economy through Governance, Policy, Standards, Skills & Inclusion again here:

Watch the UNFCCC event - The Role of Standards and Guidelines - here:


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