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COP26 Reflections: Enabling Business Action and Planetary Ambition

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COP26 was the first UN climate conference that truly recognized the critical role of business in driving change, and it was the first Conference of the Parties SAP attended. Now that COP26 is over, we can reflect on almost two weeks of SAP activity on the ground.

Building on the 2015 Paris Agreement and following the IPCC’s 2021 Sixth Assessment report that human activity is the unequivocal cause of rapid changes to the climate, COP26 recognized this sense of urgency. Two weeks of negotiations among more than 120 world leaders resulted in the Glasgow Climate Pact, which gives a strong signal to countries and businesses to be more ambitious and focus on the action needed to protect the planet from further irreversible damage.

The Glasgow Climate Pact mandates countries to do more and strengthen their 2030 targets next year. The countries agreed on the rules governing international carbon markets, mobilizing financial flows to developing countries, phasing down coal and phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, and reducing methane emissions. It also recognizes the importance of international partnerships and includes language on development and deployment of technologies and technology transfer. There were pledges by groups of countries to end deforestation and move finance to clean energy.

SAP’s Chief Sustainability Officer Daniel Schmid, along with a small team representing SAP’s leadership in the topics of climate action, circular economy, consumer industries, and government affairs, explored how the event worked, understanding the science and engaging with businesses, policy makers, and startups to emphasize SAP’s role and impact. Given the context of COVID-19, planning was chaotic and most other businesses reported a rush to finalize plans in the final few days.

At COP26, we engaged in as many forums as possible across business, media, and government and were inspired by the many CEOs, CSOs, policy makers, activists, NGOs, partners, and startups. In the middle of all this, our circular economy team also launched a game-changing software solution – SAP Responsible Design and Production.

We constantly heard the phrase ‘You can’t manage what you can’t measure.’ In almost every forum, from every stakeholder group, this simple idea was repeated and re-emphasized. It was explicitly linked to the strengthening role of data and digital solutions for climate action.

The Glasgow summit also saw significant business presence, something lacking in previous climate meetings. It emphasized our view that SAP is a critical stakeholder in the operating system of business and that coming to grips with climate in industry is first and foremost a question of getting transparency and alignment with the business processes that drive the problem. In terms of how the business world configures itself to a regenerative and net-positive future – another part of the COP26 business leaders’ lexicon – SAP holds the key to the door. The question is how do we empower each and every stakeholder group to unlock the collaboration and transformation needed across business, finance, policy makers, and NGOs.

Following nearly two weeks and countless interactions, it’s clear that SAP’s role is to help these key stakeholder groups with:

  • Fostering the transparency needed on material impact across the full system
  • Connecting businesses across complex business networks and ecosystems
  • Engaging the Global South equitably in solutions and supporting the social dimension of climate change
  • Offering the insights needed to support the right allocation of capital to support initiatives that deliver regenerative business outcomes
  • Navigating the complex policy environment and climate legislations that need to be delivered post-COP26

On reflection, our role as SAP should above all support the goals of COP26 by positively advocating and inspiring action based on what business technology can do.

Ultimately, climate conferences like COP26 have a simple purpose – to keep the world within the 1.5 degrees Celsius average temperature increase from pre-industrialized levels and to mitigate the impacts of climate change. COP26 has moved the world closer and kept the possibility within reach.

The pact and the pledges mean nothing unless they’re delivered at the national level. Governments must build policies to give a clear direction to businesses across sectors to reach a net-zero economy, backed by substantial investments and engagement with businesses to drive multi-stakeholder initiatives. COP26 triggers consistent engagement over the next decade and beyond; it’s not a one-time effort.

Our role is to help make this possibility a reality and help drive the action needed across all markets and industries.