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The University of Southampton
Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

Considerations of the Impact of COP26 on Business and the Greater Solent Region

Published: 16 December 2021
COP26 and Business

The Southampton Business School returned to face-to-face external events with an evening seminar in the MBA suite of the Centenary Building on the 24th of November.  The event included three speakers from the University of Southampton who’d recently attended the COP26 Climate meeting in Glasgow.  The Southampton Marine & Maritime Institute (SMMI) led the University of Southampton’s application to the United Nations Framework Committee on Climate Change Observer Status that provided access to the Blue Zone where the negotiations were taking place.  The SBS evening event had a distinctively maritime flavour but included calls for the greater Solent region to get better organised and increase ambitions in the urgent need to decarbonise our society, transport and the ways we trade with the rest of the world.

Following refreshments and an introduction by Professor Toby King, the Director of Enterprise for the SBS, Professor Damon Teagle, Director of the SMMI introduced the activities and outcomes of the COP26 meeting and outlined the huge challenges facing the UK and global societies due to our unrelenting consumption of hydrocarbons and colossal emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (almost 50 Gt CO2equiv !).  Although the mild wording of the final Glasgow Climate Pack has caused much disappointment, there was progress at COP26 with little argument about the underlying climate change science and the explicit mention for the first time of the phasedown of a fossil fuel.  However, the commitments of nations to decarbonised and reduce pollution remain insufficient to avert serious levels of global warming even assuming that aspirations are carried through. The <1.5 deg C maximum global warming aspiration remains on life-support.  Subsidies that support the continued extraction and burning of hydrocarbons remain a truly staggering proportion of the global economy. Urgent work is required in the next 12 months to build trust and increase ambitions. Global eyes will be on COP27 in Egypt next year.

SMMI Policy Fellow Dr Wassim Dbouk looked specifically at the impacts of the COP26 conference and related events on the maritime sector.  More than 80% of global trade is carried by ships and although this is most efficient way to carry freight, ships still produce about 3% of global emissions – approximate the size of Germany’s.  Dr Dbouk highlighted the important role of industry leaders in the development and testing of new technologies needed to decarbonise shipping , and that this vanguard of industry is likely to lead national and international regulators such as the International Maritime Organisation.  For example, the Clydebank Declaration for Green Shipping Corridors, announced by UK Shipping Minster Robert Courts MP at COP26, will establish a number of routes worldwide where new green fuels are available to enable low or zero-emissions shipping.

COP26 and Business

For the Solent, Professor Teagle outlined the urgent need and opportunities for decarbonisation, renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, widespread electrification, and hydrogen. Professor AbuBakr Bahaj, Professor of Sustainable Energies in the Energy and Climate Change Division of the School of Engineering, reinforced these ideas and focussing on the important role of Cities for future sustainability, and how these concentrated vibrant regions of economic growth can also be loci of efficient buildings, renewable energy generation, clean transport and waste reduction. However, there needs to be coherent vision with specific ambitions towards a cleaner net-zero society and regional economy with improved human and environmental well-being. Many of the solutions are near to hand but require organisation and deployment at scale. The University of Southampton needs to be a developer of solutions, but also deploy and implement best sustainability practices across its estate and activities.

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