COP26 is an opportunity to accelerate the decarbonisation of energy

Duncan Burt, Chief Sustainability Officer at National Grid discusses the importance of COP26, and accelerating progress towards net zero both ahead of the summit, and after it has concluded.

There is widespread consensus that COP26 is a huge opportunity to make strides on climate change, with the potential to rally the world on the biggest issue of our time. But it is just a moment in time; what we achieve before and after will be just as important in dictating the pace at which we decarbonise and reach a clean energy future.

This year we’ve seen a lot of action and commitment from the UK government, from committing to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035, to laying out plans for the decarbonisation of transport and the role of hydrogen in a net zero future. The Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy was welcomed by industry and green groups, with a roadmap in place to support the transition for industry and encourage growth of new, low carbon industries. Recent strategies and announcements including the Net Zero Strategy and the Heat & Buildings Strategy have added to the government’s ambitions at COP26 and provided additional key pieces of the UK’s decarbonisation puzzle

The UK government has certainly raised the bar on ambition. Its target of cutting carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 has to an extent helped focus minds across industries, sectors and businesses of all shapes and sizes. But it can’t just be a number on a piece of paper. Much like the strategies and plans can’t just be words. We need to see what this really means in practice, with a hard push to get carbon emissions down now and in the years that follow COP26 – straying from this purpose will jeopardise climate ambitions and keep the 78% target out of reach.

For the actions that come out of the summit to be long-term and sustainable, they need to ensure a just transition which includes all people from all corners of the country. As the backbone of the energy system in the UK, we recognise our role goes beyond keeping the lights on and the gas flowing.  We also have an important part to play in enabling what’s become known as the ‘Green Recovery’ and supporting the fair transition to cleaner energy for all, across the country.

For us, our key ask of governments at COP26 is this: achieve clear alignment across the G20 that will help turbo charge the changes we’re already seeing in global markets and accelerate the shift in business investment towards a zero-carbon economy. That means a faster transition to electric vehicles, an end to burning coal, investing in renewable energy and financial support to help nations tackle the impacts of climate change – these actions will provide the hard push to get carbon emissions down in the years that follow the summit.

And underpinning all of this, is the need to ensure energy markets and policies are able to deliver on climate goals. For us at National Grid, this requires the right regulatory, planning and policy framework to drive investment in zero-carbon infrastructure in a way that works for the communities we serve.