Business leaders went to last year's COP26 climate conference in numbers, both to lend support and lobby for greater involvement in the UN-led process. Ben Cooper assesses where COP26 leaves both the global efforts and corporate action, as well as the prospects for a closer connection between them.\n\nSet the daunting challenge of shoring up the flagging Paris climate change accord, the COP26 conference last November did just about enough to claim success.\n\nA perfect storm of US withdrawal under Donald Trump, inadequate national commitments - particularly from high-emitting countries - and the pandemic, had left the trajectory so far adrift that the objective effectively became to put the Paris process 'on track to getting back on track'. The main aim was to secure increased 2030 emissions targets from countries while agreeing a "process to keep the 1.5\u00b0C goal alive".\n\nIn the end, some 151 countries had increased their 2030 targets but this still equates to a catastrophic global temperature rise of 2.4\u00b0C. True success, therefore, depends on countries heeding the call in the Glasgow Climate Pact to "revisit and strengthen" their targets, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), by the end of the year.\n\nFor multinational food and beverage corporations, which had actively supported the UN-led process and increasingly aligned their emissions targets with the Paris goals, the prospect of COP26 ending in disarray, as COP25 had in 2019, was unconscionable. It was no surprise, therefore, that the level of attendance from the private sector was higher than ever including, according to the Food Research Collaboration initiative led by City University in the UK, some 75 representatives from the food and drinks industries.\n\nArticulating a widely-held concern, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a CEO-led coalition advocating a sustainable, inclusive approach to business, called for formal inclusion of companies' climate-related actions in the Paris process, as it launched its 'Business Manifesto for Climate Recovery'.\n\nPublic-private partnership is widely acknowledged as crucial in addressing climate change but the Paris accord process "has not been optimised for collaboration between policymakers and business leaders", the WBCSD suggested, with more than a hint of understatement.\n\nThe UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) would not be unique among UN agencies in taking a cautious approach to collaboration with the private sector, but it could be particularly costly in relation to climate change. All the recommendations in the WBCSD manifesto involve some collaboration between public and private sector.\n\nThe system is also weakened by having no way of accounting for the progress companies are making through their own actions, according to WBCSD, which includes Nestle, Danone and PepsiCo among its 200 members. It proposes the introduction of Corporate Determined Contributions (CDCs) to track the progress businesses are making against their commitments.\n\nAs a proponent of 'stakeholder capitalism', WBCSD wants progressive companies to have recognition within the system for the measures they are taking, but also to be held to account. CDCs would lend credibility and validity to companies' climate policies and help consumers distinguish meaningful action and legitimate claims from greenwashing.\n\nJust before COP26 got underway, the Science-based Targets Initiative (SBTI) launched the world's first net-zero standard which, it is hoped, will bring greater rigour and consistency to a term that has been loosely applied and widely associated with greenwashing.\n\nThe UN's ethical business initiative, the UN Global Compact (UNGC), is one of the four partners behind the SBTI, alongside CDP, WWF and the World Resources Institute (WRI), so it has a UN connection and a retinue of impeccable sponsors. However, in an ideal world, the UNFCCC would be among them or might have initiated such a programme itself.\n\nTo date, some 167 food and beverage companies have signed up to the SBTI. It will be interesting to see the pace at which targets are upgraded to the net-zero standard.\n\nWhile their agricultural supply chains mean food and beverage companies have very significant Scope 3 emissions, agricultural and land-based operations also have great potential for 'insetting' carbon emissions (offsetting within a company's own value chain) through carbon removal. For the time being, the SBTI is taking a cautious approach to carbon removal, which speaks to the complexity of this area.\n\nThe GHG Protocol, an initiative formed by the WBCSD and WRI, is preparing guidance for companies on how to use carbon removal and land use management to reduce their carbon footprint and integrate these reductions into their GHG inventories. SBTI believes this will inform its standard, although the GHG Protocol work is not due to be published until the end of the year.\n\nAt COP26, where softly-spoken conference president Alok Sharma often risked being drowned out by the cacophony of cans being kicked down the road, agreement was finally reached, after a six-year impasse, on the rules governing the creation of a global carbon market. This defines a framework for carbon credits to be exchanged through the UNFCCC, as Article 6 of the Paris treaty requires.\n\nBusiness leaders and investors were also urging governments to set a global carbon price, something that they have not done. Progressive food and drinks companies will rightly keep up the pressure on policymakers. Whether through trading systems or taxes, putting a financial value on carbon is crucial in incentivising climate action by companies and vital to the global climate challenge.\n\nWith the problem of greenwashing in mind, 2022 looks set to be a significant year for sustainability reporting, following the launch of the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) by the IFRS Foundation during COP26. There is likely to be much discussion of the relative merits of its standards, currently being developed, and those of the EU's Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, which is scheduled to be implemented next year.\n\nThe ISSB aims initially to develop a "comprehensive global baseline of high-quality sustainability disclosure standards" aimed at meeting investors' information needs. The board has been set up to be a counterpart of the IFRS International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), with the aim of ensuring "connectivity and compatibility" between the widely-adopted IFRS accounting standards and the new disclosure standards. Emmanuel Faber, the erstwhile CEO of Danone whose commitment to stakeholder capitalism cost him his job last year, has been named as ISSB's first chair.\n\nMeticulously constructed standards are of limited value, of course, if their use is not mandated. So, again, much rests with policymakers, just as recognition of corporate action within the Paris process rests with COP delegates.\n\nIn view of the headwinds the UN-led effort continues to battle, the qualified success of COP26 gave little cause for celebration. The exultant claim of one high-ranking UN official that the conference had been "defined by reinvigorated multilateralism" seemed hard to reconcile with the image of Alok Sharma weeping as the conference closed with a crushing concession on coal.\n\nThe pressing need to ramp up the pace was reflected in the WEF Global Risks Report 2022, launched last week by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Climate action failure was identified as the number one risk over the next two to five years, as well as for the coming five to ten years.\n\nFood and drinks companies have a huge role to play in addressing climate change, as does the private sector overall, and many are already contributing significantly. While recognition within the Paris process would benefit companies and the collective effort alike, the chances of this being seized upon at COP27 seem remote.\n\nThe backlash against the UN's ground-breaking strategic partnership with WEF in 2019 may have left officials with little appetite for reinvigorating 'multistakeholderism' in the Paris process anytime soon.