Reflecting back on 2021, and undoubtedly one of the most significant events in our calendar was COP26, which took place in Glasgow from 31 October - 12 November. SmartCarbon Ltd’s Director Anna-Lisa Mills FIEMA, CEnv, MSc, BSc, PGCE had the opportunity to attend the conference and answered some questions about her experience.

We all saw coverage about COP26 on the news, it was attended by world leaders and even celebrities - can you tell us a little about what the experience was like from the perspective of an attendee?

I found the experience both fascinating and depressing! I was very lucky to get the opportunity to attend and immerse myself in the experience. I attended as an NGO Observer on behalf of IEMA (The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment)’s Climate Change and Energy Steering Group.

Attending it was just like a typical business conference - with a few key differences, there was heavy security, which was to be expected, but I was surprised by the sheer size of it and how many delegates attended - it was heaving, and I hit my 10,000 steps every day just by walking from presentation to presentation! But it does make you wonder what it all accomplished.

When I say it was fascinating, that was because I was spoiled for choice with interesting presentations I could attend at the main pavilion and it was great to catch up with friends and colleagues. I enjoyed some of the award ceremonies and visiting showcase innovations, which reassured me that we really aren’t short of solutions.

But on the other hand, it was ultimately a very depressing affair for me. Whilst there were lots of seemingly encouraging announcements around deforestation, ocean protection reduction of coal use and methane emissions and new pledges for climate finance and net zero targets, the sum outcome is that it fell way short of what the climate crisis demands.

The most important goal is to cap warming at 1.5 degrees above our pre-industrial base line but the national declared contributions (pledges submitted by each nation) do not collectively add up to anywhere near this limit.

What would you say was the highlight of the event?

The absolute highlight for me was getting to have a long conversation with Professor Kevin Anderson. Kevin is a climate scientist and is Professor of Energy and Climate Change, at both the University of Manchester and in Centre for Sustainability and the Environment (CEMUS) at Uppsala University (Sweden). He has previously been both Deputy Director and Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

Kevin has been a climate hero of mine for many years and I have always seen him as the voice of reason on both the climate crisis and the political response. When we chatted over coffee, he told me he felt we had around 5% chance of holding warming to 1.5 degrees, this certainly focused my mind on the importance of the conference.

What was your experience of the talks and presentations?

There was so much choice for presentations to attend that I was able to select the talks that mattered most to me. I invested in my own CPD and increased my knowledge in topics like decarbonising construction and sustainable design. I attended presentations at the Healthcare Pavilion, the Science Pavilion and the Business for 1.5 degrees stand. This was all very informative and will help me to improve the quality of my consultancy and training delivery.

The problem was that the conference invited like-minded people saying the same things, which created an “echo-chamber effect”, where it seemed like progress was happening, when in fact it isn’t enough to change our current trajectory.

Now that COP26 is over - where do we go from here?

We went to COP26 with global pledges that added up to 2.7 degrees of warming, we came out of COP26 with pledges that add up to 2.4 degrees. That might sound like progress, however, if the past 25 COPs are anything to go by, pledges don’t translate to action.

The science shows the emissions are still rising, exponentially. We are already 1.2 degrees warmer than our pre-industrial baseline and scientists warn us that we should not exceed 1.5 degrees of warming if we want the best chance of avoiding passing tipping points and runaway warming.

One of my key takeaways from the conference was that we can’t rely on world leaders and politicians to respond accordingly to the climate emergency. We need action that matches the scale of the risk and, from the climate marches both inside and outside of the conference, it is clear that society is aware of this fact. But civil society cannot fix the problems that are at the heart of the crisis. Therefore, I believe there is an opportunity for it is up to the business community to adopt a leadership position and demonstrate that transformative change is possible!

You can also read FIEMA member Damien Plant's reflections on COP26 here.

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

Photo of Anna Lisa Mills
Anna-Lisa Mills FIEMA, CEnv, MSc, BSc (Hons), PGCE

Director, True North Sustainability and SmartCarbon

Anna-Lisa Mills is the Director of True North Sustainability and SmartCarbon, as well as part-time Sustainability Manager at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. The Trust was the first Health Care Organisation in the world to declare a Climate Emergency and Anna-Lisa is part of a team working towards carbon neutrality by 2040 for direct and indirect emissions.

Anna-Lisa has experience of supporting hundreds of companies across a range of sizes and sectors with their carbon calculation, reporting and reduction processes. Anna-Lisa is a Chartered Environmentalist and a fellow Member of IEMA. She has completed Al Gore’s training programme to become a Climate Reality Leader and is an active member of IEMA’s Climate Change and Energy Steering Group as well as IEMA’s North East Regional Steering Group.

Anna-Lisa is an Associate Lecturer at Northumbria University, teaching on the BSc and MSc environmental management courses as well as CPD Short Courses such as the IEMA approved one day course in Carbon Footprinting, Reporting and Reduction for Organisations.


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