Anna Abdelnoor, CEO of industry sustainability body isla, shares her insights on the outcomes from COP27….
In November 2022, the eyes of the world were on COP27 – the world’s foremost climate conference – watching cautiously as the planet rapidly approaches tipping points that make the climate crisis irreversible.
Although COP can seem a world away from the events industry in content and context, there are closely aligned themes to explore which serve as a guide to aligning the industry’s activities with global actions and ambitions.
Among the multitude of discussions held across the 10-day event were several key takeaways to digest.
Loss and damage
Significant strides were made when it came to accountability for the impact of emissions in the Global North. More than $230m in new pledges were made to the Adaptation Fund at COP27, to support developing countries experiencing some of the worst impacts of climate change. This is crucial to tackling the climate crisis, as 50% of the global population is accountable for only 7% of emissions; whereas the wealthiest 1% account for around half of emissions.
Yet the impact of climate change is not just experienced overseas. It’s on our own shores. The UK has experienced floods, heatwaves and wildfires in recent years, all of which can devastate communities and infrastructure, and in the past decade, the EU has lost €145bn due to climate-related events.
Why is this relevant to events? Perhaps it means we need to rethink when and how we will deliver live events in the future, taking climate change into account and limiting the health and safety risks that come with natural disasters. We must also consider what might impact client preferences for holding events in the UK. It’s important we assess how the actions we take to mitigate the climate crisis today can minimise these risks, and inspire confidence that events will go ahead as planned.
It seems inevitable that a shift in behaviour is required within the events industry. We’ve already seen hybrid events coming to the forefront of event design, which can potentially reduce the ‘shock’ effect of natural disasters causing short-notice upheaval to delivery.
The launch of FAST
Food and agriculture took a front-row seat this year with the launch of the FAST (Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation) initiative. It is described as “a multi-stakeholder partnership acting as an accelerator to transform agrifood systems to deliver triple wins: for people, for climate and for nature”. But what does it even mean to consider this triumvirate in the context of agriculture – and how does this play out in events?
We all know that beef is a leading culprit in meat production’s contribution to climate change. Beef produces 60kgCO2e per kilogram of meat; which means that for every kg of beef produced, 60 times that amount of carbon is emitted. Moreover, cattle and sheep grazing uses around 30% of all UK land, but this free-range stock is accountable for only 1% of calories in the UK.
In terms of food security, this means we’re using an enormous amount of acreage to produce very little by way of actual food consumed. In contrast, peas are an alternative protein source. Even though peas produce around one fifth of the protein in a kilo of beef, emissions are about 60 times lower. The numbers speak for themselves, and it’s clear that the latter has a lower carbon impact for comparable calorie output.
As we witness greater pressures to reduce methane gas emissions, increase biodiversity, and ensure food security in a complex geopolitical and regulatory landscape, the events industry must also show a willingness to adapt. Changing menus according to seasonal ingredient availability, plant-based diets or developments such as lab-grown protein are all options to be considered.
Given the scale of the industry, adjusting menus and engaging audiences in these positive changes supports public awareness and encourages the necessary shifts we need.
Question marks remain over an accelerated transition to renewable energy from fossil fuels. COP’s Sharm El-Sheikh Implementation Plan only calls for an enhancement of the “clean energy mix, including low-emission and renewable energy”.
So what does that mean for the events industry? Essentially, we can’t use inertia at local or global policy level as an excuse not to press ahead with our sustainability goals.
We know that a net-zero future requires a clean break from fossil fuels. Business plays a vital role in enabling a just transition. One hundred companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions, so it’s on industry to facilitate a reduction in carbon emissions – and make reaching the global goal of Net Zero by 2050 a reality.
Using renewable energy within our venues, procuring green generators for temporary power and maximising every opportunity for energy efficiency on site – think LEDs over Parcans and energy-load planning – creates a market for this transition. In addition, mass adoption will mean prices fall over time and savings made through more efficient energy consumption.
The highs and the lows
At the close of COP27, Alok Sharma, the UK Government’s negotiator and president of COP26 held in 2021, cast doubt on the dream of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees. He stated: “Friends, I said in Glasgow that the pulse of 1.5 degrees was weak. Unfortunately, it remains on life support.”
Time is running out. But the events industry is renowned for rising to a complex challenge. Putting sustainability front and centre of business strategies and each and every event delivery decision.
We won’t get there overnight, and getting things right will be a learning journey. But our industry has proven time and again that when we work collectively, we can achieve the seemingly impossible.