Richard Smith FIEMA and member of the IEMA Climate Change and Energy Network discusses what it will look like for the sustainability profession in the lead up to Cop26

COP26 must succeed if we are to beat climate change. Our profession is uniquely placed to foster an ambitious COP because we turn theory into practice on the ground. IEMA can present a unified voice and speak to government on behalf of its members. But individuals have a pivotal role too, driving action which IEMA and others can amplify. Both levels of activity are essential and interlinked. Without individuals taking action, there are no stories to be told; without organisations like IEMA, the stories may go unheard by those in power.

As COP26 President, the UK has much to do before November 2021. It must use diplomatic opportunities such as the G7 to ensure the flow of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) is high in volume and ambition while ensuring its own legally-binding net zero 2050 plans are robust. The profession must act as a non-political, science-based inspiration and challenge to government to go further and faster. IEMA has access to officials and can use its status and knowledge to influence those out of reach of its members. It must remind government the profession is supportive but will be critical if ambition and action are inadequate and NDCs fail to hit the 1.5-degree target.

Collaborations such as Race to Zero and our sector’s related Pledge to Net Zero are in place ready for professionals to ensure their action has international visibility, demonstrating the demand for change. Fresh insight can be sought through consultation with members, with ideas fed back through IEMA. Guidance on how organisations can align with COP26 goals must be clear and jargon free, helping professionals to go beyond what legislation requires and focus on what science demands. The profession must play its part, building on existing momentum, to convince authorities that ambition at COP26 is expected, deliverable, and that business is already on board.

At grass roots, professionals must encourage employers, regardless of size, to adopt ambitious transitions and net zero targets and register with initiatives like those above so their efforts are captured and recognised, sending a signal to UK government and beyond. We must also act not just on behalf of our employers but ourselves. Civic society created positive change at COP21 and must do so again before COP26. We can be advocates for the profession and what is at stake, engaging with friends, families and colleagues in an attempt to generate change. We must do this with fairness and compassion, embracing diversity in all forms, just as the negotiators must do to achieve climate justice. We must look after ourselves and each other because regardless of COP26’s achievements, the work will go on for decades and it will be hard. We must be stubbornly optimistic that COP26 will succeed.

An ambitious COP26 depends upon officials and ministers accepting that those of us not involved in the negotiations want and expect action. We must present an informed, unified voice and seek every opportunity within governments, NGOs, businesses, homes and high streets to make that voice heard.

Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the individual contributing member, and are not necessarily representative of the views of IEMA or any professional institutions with which IEMA is associated.

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Richard Smith

Richard is Head of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Manchester and was formerly Sustainability Manager at the BBC. He is an IEMA Fellow and member of IEMA's Climate Change and Energy network. Prior to moving into sustainability he was a BBC correspondent. Richard is passionate about fighting climate change and improving wellbeing.