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With less than a fortnight to go, the build-up to COP26 is in full swing. So too is the marketing and networking, as companies look to capitalise on this critical moment for sustainability globally.

I’ve seen consultants talking setting up meetings about their climate-risk expertise at COP26; aluminum producers building low-carbon aluminum pavilions for pre-show networking events; brokers offering analysis on COP26 resilient stocks; asset managers promoting views on energy transition ahead of the COP discussions; and immersive digital experiences including discussions about the relationship between the sustainable transition and motor racing.

There are drinks events a-plenty. Hot tickets include soirées being held by the CBI and Ecometrica, the Food and Drink Federation, and TechUK. 

New advertising campaigns are running thick and fast – with recent campaigns being launched ahead of the event that specifically seek to address climate action by E.ON, McDonald’s and the Scottish Government.

Aligning post-COP comms with the new realities we might expect

The question on my mind however is not what companies are doing now with their communications - but how will it change communications after the event? COP meetings don’t always decisively set the sustainability agenda, but every five years they do, and we are now five years on from Paris, where important targets were set.

The expectation is that this event will also be significant in its ambitions. Many commentators feel this is the ‘last, best chance’ to put the world on a steady path to net-zero. However the negotiations conclude, this will establish a new norm for years to come. And for us communicators, this will shape communications strategy and output.

In my mind there are three main communication trends to look out for through the event and beyond as it starts to shape the sustainability agenda for foreseeable future:

  1. Close alignment of communications with COP26 goals

The four goals that underpin COP – mitigation (how we keep the 1.5 degrees goal within reach by achieving net zero by 2050); adaption (protect communities and natural habitats); mobilizing finance (to boost much needed funding); and collaboration (how we work together to rise to the challenge posed by climate change) – will all start to become more specifically aligned to the communications strategy of many companies and sectors.

I already see a shift in what the media are requesting. Many journalists wanting to understand how the underlying themes of COP26, including specifically mitigation and adaptation, translate into investment strategies now and in the future.

But more broadly we will expect to see companies aligning their communications directly with these goals in the years ahead as they look to remain current and genuine, and turn their ambitious pledges of emissions targets into a story of real reduction.

  1. More talk about the role that finance will play

The role that finance will play to get us to net zero hasn’t been underplayed, but it feels louder this year and is obviously one of the four aforementioned COP26 themes.

A key point under “mobilise finance” is that every financial decision must take climate change into account. We expect to see more financial services firms speaking up with authenticity and purpose as they highlight the material impact that finance can have on companies individual emission reductions.

Another key point is more finance and investment is needed – the UN predicts at least $100bn is needed in climate finance per year from developed countries – and other estimates say between five and eight times more capital is required per year than current levels. There’s obviously a huge business opportunity here, and one that companies won’t be shy talking about if they have something to say.

There are also opportunities to set the record straight on aspects of sustainable finance and make sure it does what it is setting out to achieve – as we saw ING do brilliantly last month – and opportunities for companies that are already leaders within sustainable finance and investing to help their clients make the transition through public and private capital markets.

  1. A shift from noise to action

The IPCC report in August certainly shone the spotlight on the severe position we are in terms of mitigating climate change. COP26 will no doubt tighten up the pressure.

The sustainable finance community is already calling for more action and accountability. Financial markets reporters are now specialised and as much experts on climate science as they are on interest rates. What comes with this specialism, is increased skepticism, and companies need to be wary of making lofty emission-cutting commitments, while reduction or the path to reduction is harder to achieve.

It is these paths that will be in the crosshairs of the sustainability media and other influencers. High impact sectors as well as those firms that finance them will be put under pressure when it comes to their emission targets and the pathway they take to get there – pressure that continues to build. This is why I believe that we’ll see much more emphasis on corporate activity that is focused on actual material progress – and therefore more communications activity that will spread the word.

In a world where only one-third of S&P500 companies have set ambitious targets (according to corporate governance and responsible investment advisor Institutional Shareholder Services), more clearly needs to be done. Communications will be a critical tool in helping tell this story credibly, where a credible story exists.

Charlie Morrow is a director based in London