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December, 10, 2021  |  Adam Garfunkel  |  

Where Were the Leaders at COP?

Last month Adam Garfunkel, a co-owner at Junxion, headed up to Glasgow, Scotland for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference–more commonly known as COP26. Here is what Adam had to say about the experience…

Adam Garfunkel
Adam is a co-owner of Junxion and has been working in sustainability as a campaigner, communicator and consultant for over 30 years. Reach Adam via [email protected] 

On my last morning at COP 26 in Glasgow, I was running for a lift and called on the two people already in it to hold the doors. Only after I’d stepped in, caught my breath, and traveled a few floors did I realize that I was riding the lift with John Kerry and his assistant! 

On recovering some of my composure, I asked ‘Er… how’s it going?’. To which Mr Kerry replied that this was better than all the other COPs he’d attended, because people were making decisions. I got out of the lift more hopeful than I had felt when I stormed aboard on the ground floor.

By the end of COP26, the Glasgow Pact left the world feeling a little ‘meh.’ The last-minute change from ‘phase-out’ to ‘phase-down’ of coal has definitely coloured our collective final impression of the summit—though it is the first time a COP has agreed any statement about coal. Failure by the developed world to consider paying compensation for climate impacts in the developing world was also disappointing. It showed that ultimately, it’s still money that drives decisions. 

In short, the agreement the politicians reached is clearly insufficient and together they underwhelmed, under-performed and under-delivered.

Looking back, though, I realise Mr Kerry’s optimism was due to commitments made by some countries during the first week at COP—on stopping deforestation and reducing methane emissions.

The agreement the politicians reached is clearly insufficient and together they underwhelmed, under-performed and under-delivered.

But away from the politicians’ negotiations, what I saw and heard from others during my time in Glasgow inspired and energised me for the challenges ahead. 

Oriele Frank, Elemis

‘It’s only a bottle… we can share that.’ So said Oriele Frank, chief product and sustainability officer of Elemis, announcing that she will be putting Elemis product into the same ‘Return Refill Repeat’ refill stations using the same recycled bottles that Jo Chidley of skincare rival Beauty Kitchen has recently launched. This was perhaps my moment of the week at COP. Last year we researched and wrote the ‘Courage to Change’ report for the British Beauty Council, setting out a sustainability roadmap for the UK beauty industry. Our principal recommendation was that they had to collaborate more on solving their industry’s social and environmental challenges. Fast forward a year and we have collaboration in action. Very cool!

Ivan Frishberg, Amalgamated Bank

At the discussion event on the Net Zero Banking Alliance—a key plank of Mark Carney’s Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ)—Ivan Frishberg of union-owned Amalgamated Bank spoke truth to power. Following the usual lament that banks can’t move on climate in the absence of a clear direction from governments, he pointed out that this had not stopped his bank declaring they would be net zero across the business—including financed emissions—by 2045. He also generously pointed out that fellow Certified B Corp bank Triodos has trumped this and has declared they intend to be net zero by 2035. 

But even more importantly, he went on to call out his fellow bankers on what engaging with policymakers has to mean today. He pointed out that historically when banks have waded into policy debates it has been to slow down or block green policies. So more engagement of that sort is not what’s needed. Now banks have to engage and support green policies.

Louisa Ziane, Toast Ale

Inspired by COP, Toast Ale brought together a coalition of 25 breweries in the Companion series that are all using Toast’s approach of using bread that would otherwise be wasted to brew beer. Toast has worked with 70 breweries directly and has open-sourced its recipe so others can use it too. They know they can’t make using surplus bread as a beer ingredient a mainstream idea on their own. They collaborate to shift people’s perceptions of circular economy thinking. True to the brand ethos of saving the planet by having more fun than those who are seeking to destroy it, Toast co-founder Louisa rocked at the ‘NetZeroNow’ event, showcasing Toast’s radical collaboration across the industry.

Amy Clarke, Tribe Impact Capital

Amy was the impetus behind 11 finance sector Certified B Corporations launching an initiative to get all financial institutions to change their articles of association to embed stakeholder accountability (as B Corps are required to do). As she said “If you change the purpose outlined in your constitution, you change your directors’ duties, which in turn changes the Board discussion, which then changes everything. Put simply, IF finance truly intends on becoming part of the solution, they must amend their articles.”

When asked what success looks like in five years, Amy shot back “all the GFANZ companies have made this articles change!” Boom!

Hermione Taylor, Do Nation

Hermione organised the Ride the Change event that saw nearly 200 people cycle from London to Glasgow in time for COP. Individuals could ’sponsor’ riders with carbon pledges chosen from dozens of ideas to reduce their personal carbon footprint. The result: a lot of very wet and tired cyclists who reported having an amazing bonding and personal growth experience. And 5,866 pledges accounting for 322,657 Kg of CO2 savings. That’s equivalent to 2,907 flights from Glasgow to Amsterdam!

Rethinking the System

Ultimately it was cool to meet John Kerry and speak with him, however briefly. But in what they delivered from COP 26, he and the other politicians did not serve the global community as the leaders we needed. They are too stuck in the current mainstream paradigm where ultimately only profit matters.

What Oriele, Ivan, Louisa, Amy and Hermione demonstrate is that, despite the hold of our profit-focused capitalism, the shift to a new economy is underway. That there are people running businesses—B Corps or thinking like them—who are bold, creative and inspirational about what positive change might look like. Who collaborate in a generous spirit because they recognise profit as an outcome rather than the purpose of business. Who step up. 

That’s the leadership the world needs.