COP26, ESG, Sustainability, Sustainable Legacies

As the world looks to Glasgow for the COP26 conference on climate change, we’ll be discussing some of the changes our industry needs to make and reflecting on the COP debate on the AECOM BlogJoin the discussion on social media by following us on Twitter and LinkedIn. Find more information in our special COP26 edition of our “Future of Infrastructure” report:

The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP) set four goals to those heading to Glasgow: advance actions that secure global net zero; adapt to protect communities and natural habitats; mobilize finance; and work together to deliver. While progress might not be as rapid as some people want, in the first week of COP we saw advancements on all of these fronts:

  • On net zero, there were pledges by India and on behalf of UK listed companies and asset owners towards net zero;
  • On adaptation, there was a renewed commitment and funding to reverse deforestation and the decisive action on methane emissions;
  • And on finance, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney announced moves to encourage trillions to be invested into clean tech and the International accounting standards body IFRS announced a new International Sustainability Standards Board to develop broad and consistent global standards on sustainability disclosure for financial markets.
  • The fourth action, working together to deliver, is often overlooked in headlines. But for the AECOM team, our first week of COP was all about the conversations we had with clients, partners and new connections, some made on the podium and others whilst standing in line for security or biking from London to Glasgow.

Bringing together like-minded people at COP helps to align commitments, knowledge and experiences. It is these connections that will help us deliver our Sustainable Legacies strategy, and ultimately a better world.

This week started by a two-day leaders’ summit, followed by theme days devoted to finance, energy, youth and public empowerment, and nature. Our COP26 report, a special edition of our Future of Infrastructure series, was designed to contribute to these debates with practical solutions, in particular on how to embed climate considerations into financial and commercial decisions, on decarbonizing the energy system, and on the lessons of rewilding.

We also held events in our Glasgow and Manchester offices, as recounted below among the week’s highlights from the team:

Richard Whitehead, Managing Director – Buildings + Places, UK & Ireland at AECOM

“There was a real ‘buzz’ in Glasgow – recognition that the challenge is huge but that if we ALL take action then we will succeed. A really inspiring experience and I’m more committed than ever to delivering our Sustainable Legacies strategy.

“It was a great opportunity to meet people from different industries and backgrounds  – from agriculture, to  retail, and chemicals – to share best practice and ideas. And of course there was the panel discussion at AECOM‘s Glasgow Office which explored ‘How we can inspire and engage our communities to drive climate action’ with excellent speakers including Hermione TaylorKit EnglandJack Lenox and Claire Bonham-Carter expertly chaired by James Banks.”

Panel discussion at AECOM‘s Glasgow Office which explored “How we can inspire and engage our communities to drive climate action.”

Claire Bonham-Carter, Principal, Director of Sustainable Development

 “Cycling from London to Glasgow has led into some great conversations!  It really was an inspirational experience for me, and it turns out it is inspiring for others – on each panel I spoke on, the host remarked on the bike as they introduced me and also reflected on their own personal bicycle use and how they could/should/will do more.”

“Google, AECOM, the mayors of Houston and Phoenix and the C-40 network of cities gathered together to discuss new and powerful ways that data, tools and targeted support are accelerating government actions in the fight against climate change. Cross-sector collaborations can unlock data at scale, and the insights from that will allow us to do what needs to be done, faster.”

Groundbreaking City Partnerships to Accelerate Data-Driven Climate Action. An event hosted by Google in partnership with AECOM and C40.

Chris White, Associate Environmental Economist and National Capital Laboratory Lead.

“I think the scale of the interest amongst the public and the private sector has been really exciting – it seems like we’ve reached a different level compared to previous COPs. 

“We’re always looking for new technologies to employ in the National Capital Laboratory, and I will go home with plenty of new ideas – from discussing how to use satellites to count walrus from space to understand the impacts of sea ice loss with WWF and the British Antarctic Survey.”

Andy Thomas, Regional Director. Head of Visualization & VR, Europe at AECOM

“Exploring the green zone was great – seeing a huge range of diverse climate action projects from around the world. There was a real buzz around the venue.

“COP26 also gave me the chance to meet in person with our client UKGBC. Having worked very closely with them for the last few months on the Virtual Pavilion, it was amazing to finally meet and discuss future collaboration opportunities together.”

(From left to right): AECOM’s Andy Thomas and Xavier Xia in the COP26 green zone.
Take a tour of the Virtual Pavilion!

Kirils Holstovs, a young bridge engineer who represented his home country of Latvia at Youth4Climate Pre-COP26 summit in Milan and is helping raise the voice of young engineers at COP.

“The most important meeting for me at COP so far was when I managed to engage President for COP26 and Minister of State at the Cabinet Office Alok Sharma. In the few minutes I had with him I presented the COP26 Joint Statement of International Youth Organisations to him and explained why it matters. 

“The overall impression of COP is that everyone you speak to has done something remarkable and represents an important perspective. If you stop any person at COP and start talking, you could literally speak for hours.”

AECOM’s Kirils Holstovs presents the COP26 Joint Statement of International Youth Organisations to the President for COP26 and Minister of State at the Cabinet Office Alok Sharma.
AECOM’s Kirils Holstovs on panel event on the topic of Deploying Global Youth Capacity in UN Organisations and Engineering for SDG 13 (Climate Action).

Ian Gillies, Practice Lead Renewables

“My most interesting conversation was with a politician discussing the need to accelerate action. He engaged seriously and we talked about possible actions to engage the public.

“I also walking through a demonstration organized by a coalition of African countries asking for climate justice. It was all very good natured, but they obviously wanted to make sure that delegates were taking notice of their issues.”

Dave Phlip, Director – Digital Consulting, Strategy & Innovation Europe

“What has been most striking to me is presence and energy of youth delegates and their ambition to create a legacy of hope and thriving communities. Though I failed to be convinced by a Canadian sustainable coffee company owner who reckoned his nut-based drink was better than a Scottish cup of tea.”

“At COP, a United Nations delegate reminded us that while we need to urgently address climate change, we must also keep maintaining and advancing modern infrastructure to support societal needs both now and in the future.”

Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) Chair Andy Outram, and Vice Chair AECOM’s Dave Philp, at the High Performing Building Charter plaque just revealed by the United Nations team.

Stephen Gleave, Regional Cities Lead, Manchester

“We took the sustainable decision to take the issues of COP to our clients and colleagues in Manchester, bringing people from different disciplines and sectors together to explore the challenges together. Although we understand very well the problems we face, there are still big gaps in knowing the best solutions and we must work together with common purpose to address this.

“In the Manchester city region, there is a clear ambition in the Green Revolution team – and it was great to hear from them directly about their plans to level up the public transport network to give London-style accessibility and pricing.”

Roundtable discussion around Manchester City Region priorities.

Kate Nicholson

Graduate Environmental Scientist and COP volunteer

“It was great to meet and interact with other COP26 volunteers and my AECOM colleagues, speaking with other like-minded individuals from all different backgrounds who share a common goal of supporting action against climate change.”

AECOM’s Kate Nicholson volunteering at COP26 outside the blue zone.

In the week ahead, we’re looking forward to more discussions and announcements – and another event at our Glasgow offices hosted in partnership with the Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG). Our panel of experts, including Sir David King, Chair of Climate Crisis Advisory Group, Cambridge University, Dr Fatima Denton, United Nations University and member of CCAG, and Robert Spencer, Business Line Director – Environmental, Social and Governance, AECOM, will be considering: How do we deliver an achievable and resilient net-zero world?

Robert says: 

“COPs are also about networking and re-establishing partnerships and relations, and I’m looking forward to safely engaging in all those ad-hoc discussions that we have missed since the pandemic began. I’m particularly looking forward to our panel event on Wednesday evening, which has been inspired by our Net Zero Visions of the future work for BEIS in partnership with Deloitte and University of Cambridge. It will provide ongoing impetus and exchange of ideas for the role of infrastructure enablers like AECOM in delivering this vision, partnering with finance, academia government and industry and infrastructure clients.

“There has been a lot of good news already and it will be interesting to see if there is any further definition on carbon pricing and enhancement of formal carbon markets globally in future or whether we will continue to see more regional and voluntary carbon market evolution.”

The coming week will also see themed discussions around adaptation, loss and damage, gender, science and innovation, transport, and cities, regions and the built environment. Our COP26 report addresses these themes with articles on harnessing water technology for urban self-sufficiency, the opportunity for fleet owners in the switch to electric vehicles, and ideas on how to create the sustainable urban centers of the future.

Craig Edwards, Managing Director, Environment & Ground Engineering, UK & Ireland

“I’m looking forward to the buzz of hearing from a lot of inspirational people. I expect to feel challenged, both personally and professionally about how we can use our skills to improve and protect our planet.”

AECOM Editors

Originally published Nov 5, 2021

Author: AECOM Editors