COP26: Five things you should do

I’m proud to say that MSQ/Sustain has been heavily involved in COP26, helping our clients launch several campaigns to accelerate change.

In addition to our post summarising the key themes, we thought we’d take an in-depth look at what you can – and should – do in reaction to the commitments and plans being put in place…

#1 – Go ‘All in for 1.5’

What’s new? COP26 has seen the launch of something called “The SBTi Corporate Net-Zero Standard”. Sounds fascinating. But it is. It’s the world’s first proper framework for brands and businesses, a guide to help them reduce their carbon emissions in line with what’s required to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

Tell me more? A ‘science-based target’ from the organisation called SBTi is the most recognised gold-standard for brands and businesses wanting to take action on climate. It commits a business to a rigorous, scientifically recognised plan to reduce their carbon emissions. [For context, we need every business (and country) to halve their emissions by 2030 (just 8 years away) if we are to stay on track to achieve 1.5.]

Why is it important? If your clients are NOT ‘all in for 1.5’, if they have not yet committed to an SBTi target, they risk being left behind. Customers, investors, employees, consumers are increasingly only willing to work for, work with or buy from brands and companies that have a ‘science-based target’ endorsed by SBTi. FYI – MSQ Group has just had it’s science-based target approved by SBTi. Phew. 

‘All in for 1.5’ is a campaign by MSQ/Sustain and the We Mean Business Coalition – launched at COP26 to encourage more businesses to take action and set a science-based target for emissions reductions. It is also a campaign designed to give the policymakers from the 195 nations at COP the confidence to set more ambitious policies (like phasing out coal), knowing that thousands of businesses are already ‘all in for 1.5’. We’re all in for 1.5. Are you?

What to tell your client? If they don’t have an SBTi target, they really should get moving! If they do, then maybe they should speak to us at MSQ/Sustain – we can help them turn that commitment into a competitive advantage, help them communicate their climate action in a way that’s relevant and meaningful for consumers, customers, employees or investors. 

#2 – Get familiar with the term “Nature+Positive”

What’s new? This week saw a new phrase enter the lexicon – ‘nature-positive’. Launched at COP26 by a coalition of over 70 NGO’s involved in nature-based solutions, this urgent idea needs to work – to get brands, businesses and governments to start to get familiar with the impact their decisions have on vital natural ecosystems, and to encourage them to include nature as a factor in every decision they make – every investment, purchasing, policy and operational decision. 

Tell me more? Everyone (surely?) is familiar with the term ‘net zero’. But net zero is only half the story. We are in the midst of TWO crises, not one. Climate change and nature-loss. And we need to address both together. We need to halve emissions AND reverse nature loss by 2030 to avoid catastrophic consequences. Our future needs to be both ‘net zero’ and ‘nature-positive’. It is not an either/or.

Why is it important? The aim is to make ‘nature-positive’ as familiar, as urgent and as commonplace as ‘net zero’. Most people, brands and businesses are utterly unaware of the magnitude of the crisis going on in nature. And that needs to change. Nature – biodiversity, freshwater, land, and oceans that we depend on – is in rapid decline. In the last fifty years, we’ve destroyed at least half of land-based ecosystems and wiped out 68% of global wildlife populations. 25% of the land on Earth has been degraded by humans leading to desertification and poor soils. Humans have never lived on a planet with so little biodiversity. 

MSQ/Sustain are the lead creative agency for the Nature+Positive campaign. This week, we have helped Nature4Climate and their coalition of over 70 other NGOs launch the idea of ‘nature-positive’ on any and every channel, as well as from the Nature+Zone pavilion at the heart of the COP26 ‘blue zone’ venue in Glasgow. 

At the same time, MSQ/Sustain have helped The Science-based Targets Network launch the world’s first and most rigorous ‘science-based targets for nature’ – to complement science-based targets for climate and net zero. These are targets, actions, tools and guidance for brands and businesses to start to take steps to mitigate their impact on nature across their supply chains, and measure the results. Soon, every business will be expected to be working towards being both ‘net zero’ and ‘nature-positive’

What to tell your client? Break the news to them (gently) that it’s not enough to have a net zero strategy – they also need a ‘nature strategy’ too. Two strategies, working together, to combat twin crises. While they may have put enormous energy and effort into their climate commitments, they now need to double those efforts, and MSQ/Sustain can help them connect to the right people to start their journey towards contributing to a nature-positive future. 

#3 – Get ready for a consumer revolution.

What’s new? Decisions and policies announced this week at COP are paving the way for a surge in demand for sustainably-produced commodities. Things like palm oil, cocoa, soy, beef, paper and packaging. Sooner rather than later, we are going to see a massive increase in awareness amongst consumers about which brands and products contain sustainably-sourced, deforestation-free commodities and raw ingredients. 

Tell me more? Around 80% of tropical deforestation is caused by the production of these commodities. Whether that is global agricultural firms tearing down virgin forests for palm oil plantations, or Amazonian smallholder farmers clearing another small patch of forest to grow their crops. This week, the global south ‘producer countries’ have come together with the global north ‘consumer countries’ to agree to end commodity-driven deforestation, and put in place a roadmap for solving this incredibly complex problem. 

Why is it important? There are already certifications and marques you can see on packaging in your supermarket today that label which brands are using sustainably sourced commodities. But consumers are not familiar with them, and don’t currently make purchasing preferences based on them. That is about to change. As the principles agreed this week start to get actioned, we will see brands and retailers race to create a competitive advantage by making sustainably-sourced, deforestation-free ingredients a point of difference. 

MSQ/Sustain has been privileged to be at the centre of the UK Government’s FACT Dialogue (Forestry, Agriculture and Commodity Trade). Alongside our client, the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) we have been busy developing communications strategies and campaigns to bring the opinions and voices from all sides of the commodity supply-chain, from North and South, directly into the government-to-government Dialogues, which culminate on Saturday at COP with the release by Alok Sharma (COP26 President) and Zac Goldsmith (UK Minister for the Environment) of the FACT Roadmap. This might not sound exciting, but it marks a breakthrough moment in the efforts to halt commodity-driven deforestation. 

What to tell your client? Does the manufacturing of any of their products involve use of commodities such as palm oil or soy? Almost certainly – yes! If so, maybe it’s time to talk to them about how they can use the fact that they only use sustainably-sourced commodities (because they do, right?) to create a genuine and compelling point-of-difference in their marketing to their consumers and customers. As ever, MSQ/Sustain would love to help them do that. 

#4 – Join the Trillion Tree movement

What’s new? Within 48hrs of COP26 starting, this was already being dubbed ‘the forest COP’ – there have been some amazing announcements and commitments and financial agreements made – all designed to stop the destruction of our vital tropical rainforests. 

Tell me more? As our client, Justin Adams said in the FT today: “This is without doubt the biggest moment and the biggest breakthrough we’ve had for tropical rainforests, probably ever… Glasgow is going to be something we look back on and say: this is where we started to turn the tide on deforestation”. $Billions pledged to save the rainforests and protect indigenous peoples; and a commitment from 100 global leaders to stop and reverse deforestation by 2030.

Why is it important? There is no possible pathway to staying beneath 1.5 without saving our tropical rainforests. They are simply critical to the balance of the planet and the atmosphere. Stopping deforestation, conserving what we have left, and regenerating what we have lost is a massive part of the climate effort. 

MSQ/Sustain have two forest-related campaigns live this week at COP. Our campaign with the LEAF Coalition and the ART/TREES standard culminated in the incredible announcement (made by Jeff Bezos on Monday) of $1billion of private sector capital going into high-integrity rainforest protection programmes around the world. 

And secondly, MSQ/Sustain’s campaign for, the platform for the trillion tree community, has helped result in the announcement of pledges from brands and businesses to protect and grow over 50 billion trees. No, not a typo. 

What to tell your client? If they are interested in trees and protecting rainforests, send them our way. If they already have a tree-planting programme, we can connect them to the ‘trillion tree’ community – we need millions of people advocating for trillions of trees! If they don’t, get them to consider a corporate tree-planting pledge via And if they are offsetting their hard-to-reduce emissions, then let us get them involved in the Green Gigatonne Challenge, and we can connect them to the LEAF Coalition and Emergent – the highest quality and highest integrity jurisdictional REDD+ forest protection programmes available, the only credits that adhere to the stringent ART/TREES standard. 

#5 – Be Hopeful and Follow the Plan.

What’s new? Absolutely nothing. Here’s the thing – to halve emissions by 2030, to achieve net zero, to reverse nature-loss….the technologies already exist, are affordable and can scale rapidly. There is a plan. There is a strategy. And tactics a-plenty too. What we are missing is leadership. From our ‘leaders’. Nothing new there, then. 

Tell me more? In the midst of the usual fire-hose of doom and gloom posts about the climate emergency, I came across this article from the ever-brilliant Owen Gaffney, @owengaffney – a client of ours at MSQ/Sustain, but also an author, change-maker, strategist, writer and analyst at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Global Commons Alliance. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also the co-founder of the Exponential Roadmap Initiative. 

Why is it important? I’ve already shared his article once already, but it’s so important, and so brilliant, I’m sharing it again. This time, please read it. In it, he says: “1 .5C is still within reach. Just. The benefits of action far outweigh the costs. A combination of Wright’s Law and Moore’s Law mean momentum is unstoppable. But it must be accelerated, largely by countries just getting out of the way…”. This is a story of hope, of action, of logic, of strategy, and simply about following the plan. 

MSQ/Sustain is founded on the (to us) obvious fact that compelling ideas communicated brilliantly can accelerate change. They can change minds, change hearts, change behaviours, and change policies. We are living through what should be the fastest economic revolution ever witnessed – the transition to a net zero economy. And like that feeling of groundrush, 2030 is hurtling towards us at great speed. We (humans) have the means. We have all the right ideas. We just need to turn the accelerator up to 11. Our role at MSQ/Sustain is to try and make that happen fast enough so it’s in time to make a difference. It’s certainly the most exciting brief I’ve ever had. 

What to tell your client? Read this article. And brace yourself. If you are not ready to seize the opportunities of this frightening, exciting, exhilarating, wholesale radical and revolutionary moment we are living through between now and 2030 – the great ‘net-zero transition’ – then you shouldn’t be in charge of your company’s brands and marketing….(well, ok, maybe say it in a slightly more diplomatic way if you want to keep them as a client…)

Richard Armstrong is the founder of MSQ/Sustain