Hope not hype. That’s what COP26 must deliver.

1 November 2021

Resource Futures’ CEO, Sam Reeve writes on his hopes for COP26 in Glasgow.

As we approached COP26 I wanted to set out my hopes for the event. Yet every time I sat down to put pen to paper I hesitated. There was something niggling away in my mind, a hesitation that was becoming an impasse. What could be causing this writer’s block? Then I put my finger on it.

I was worried. Worried that COP26 wouldn’t deliver. Worried that our world leaders wouldn’t ‘lead’, that they wouldn’t take the tough decisions. Doubting – despite the #TogetherForOurPlanet hashtag – their capacity to set aside interests that have until now prevented the equitable collaboration we need. I was worried for my kids, for kids all over the world. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to write about the hope.

The challenge was not to sound pretentious or bombastic, I thought. To reign in the hyperbole. Afterall, this a conference, one of many that have gone before – albeit with an attached sense of urgency that feels very different. But there is no shying away from it; COP26 is a big deal. A significant fork in the road.

So, yes, I am worried; but I am positive, and I have hope. Though unlike watching England go so agonisingly close to winning a major tournament, this isn’t the hope that kills you – it is the kind of hope that keeps me going.

Rather like our response to the global pandemic which has delayed it, I do have hope that COP26 could be the catalyst for significant change.

The vision of Resource Futures is to create a sustainable world. At a macro level, COP26 will inform and impact how quickly and at what cost the world moves to a sustainable way of living. Unlike Jeff Bezos, our focus is to find solutions that will help maintain a high quality of life for all on planet earth, now and in the future. There is no planet B. Feeding the world, the climate emergency, biodiversity, plastics, pandemics… We must confront and tackle them all.

Rather like our response to the global pandemic which has delayed it, I do have hope that COP26 could be the catalyst for significant change. How the world responded to the threat of Covid-19 demonstrates what can be accomplished when humans strive to achieve a common goal, act together in their collective interest, invest in science, and utilise technology. The speed of action and the scale of innovation was and continues to be inspiring.

Resource use is important here because it is intrinsically linked to the climate emergency. How we design, manufacture, consume, and dispose of things we so often take for granted, results in the consumption of finite resources. At every step, producing greenhouse gases, trapping heat in the atmosphere and warming our planet. All our work at Resource Futures is therefore about understanding what materials are being used, how to substitute or reduce material use, and inform lasting change that can secure resources for the future. It requires us to change behaviours at the global, country, city, street, household, and personal level. Adapting the ways we work and live so as to use, reuse and extend the life of materials for as long as possible.

UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021
The COP26 summit will bring together parties to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Data and decision making

So, what is my hope? That world leaders are ambitious in setting targets and actions that motivate us all to embrace the need for change. Distilled down for this sector, that means targets for global action on resource data standards. It may not be a headline grabber but that is the very reason I want to see it in the actions that come out of COP26. Because for effective action on resource management, quality, robust data is essential.

With nearly 20 years working in the resource management sector, it will come as no surprise that I am, and always have been, a strong advocate for better data. Indeed, a lot of the work Resource Futures undertakes with national and local governments, global and local brands, charities, and non-profits is based on gathering primary or secondary data to assess options and make informed decisions.

We have worked collaboratively: with global institutions to help produce country-wide inventories on plastic waste; on scoping a UK material resource inventory platform; to quantify marine litter action plans, based on first understanding the scale of a problem; to design a pan-European flexible plastic packaging waste research project; undertake a national food waste composition study; help small scale manufacturers understand the impact of material substitution in their products; or to optimise material production and collection operations; and the list goes on.

Because to effectively manage resources at a local and global level we must first understand which materials in what quantities are where, who owns them, and their quality. Enabling Governments, markets, and society to truly work together for our planet, reduce the number of raw materials required, and keep those we do use in the economy longer.

This is about getting our material resource data house in order.

The complexities of the global economy mean that keeping track of materials is currently a near impossible task, but with global infection and vaccination rates, and variant gene sequencing all being reported in near real-time across the globe it demonstrates that global collaboration on complex system data can be achieved.

This is about getting our material resource data house in order. Creating a ‘data standard’ and making sure that we are building policies, programmes and plans on solid foundations. It is not a reason for delay, it is a hope that the critical golden thread of material resource data isn’t pushed aside at the expense of a perceived “better” headline. It isn’t the headline, but it needs to make the final cut of actions.

In summary, my hope is that the world’s leaders follow the reflections of the UK government’s chief scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, on the response to Covid-19; “…You’ve got to go sooner than you want to in terms of taking interventions. … You’ve got to go harder than you want to, and you’ve got to go more geographically broad than you want to.”

For me, that serves as a pretty good game plan for addressing the many threats of the climate emergency, and if it happens I believe my hopes for ambitious action will stand a good chance of being met. As for the worry; I use it to energise myself, to collaborate wider, and, through our projects, to deliver the impacts needed to transition to a sustainable world now and in the future.

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