COP26: International Standards key to a climate-friendly economy

Driving the climate agenda through an economy-wide approach.

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Standards are the way to connect and align economies and fast-track transition to net zero, said leading climate and standardization experts at an official COP26 side event, held today, 5 November 2021.

The event themed “Building back a net-zero resilient economy through Governance, Policy, Standards, Skills & Inclusion” was jointly organized by ISO, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and Consumers International. It featured discussions and presentations on the importance of an economy-wide approach to integrate net-zero goals and actions using International Standards.

“Achieving climate change goals requires more than just commitments,” said ISO Vice-President (Policy) Scott Steedman.

“It needs to be aligned with the economy and all those that participate in it, to enable engagement and action from all sectors of society. International Standards are the means to do that.”

The side event featured real-world examples of standards making an impact, most notably in the fields of reporting, accreditation, governance and sustainable finance. With the rise of “green” bonds and investments, inconsistencies in market practices and definitions and greenwashing have also increased. New and upcoming ISO standards in this field, developed in collaboration with leading minds from around the world from industry, government and civil society, are helping to create a common language and best practices. This, in turn, will not only help to ensure that green and sustainable finance practices are effective and credible, but also attract greater investment in projects that support world climate change goals.

The first global benchmark standard for good governance of organizations was also introduced, recognizing that governance is essential to enacting any climate ambitions. 

Sarah Mukherjee MBE, CEO of IEMA, emphasized the importance of skilled professionals to drive the positive impact of standards.

“It’s not just about getting governments to make sweeping statements, it’s about getting everyone involved and informed,” she said.

“In this way, it is imperative that sustainability is embedded in all parts of the existing and future workforce, to make all jobs greener and truly make headway with climate goals.”

Achieving the climate agenda with standards also requires consumer demand for climate-friendly products, services and technologies, said Helena Leurent, Director General of Consumers International.

“Our research shows that consumers want a transition to net zero that is fast, fair and transparent,” she said.

“Clear and honest labelling, reliable codes of conduct, traceability and transparency along the food chain are all essential to this, and this is where standards play a vital role.”

Emanuele Riva, Chair of the IAF, who highlighted the importance of verification and assurance of International Standards to environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting, also made reference to standards for greenhouse gas emissions, carbon footprint and reporting progress of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“Accreditation and verification support the credibility of the information provided, increasing transparency and consistency in the disclosure of such information, and ultimately motivating more impactful actions,” he said.

An example is in the fast-growing and increasingly grey area of ethical claims and labelling, such as those related to animal welfare, fair trade and child labour. Standards such as technical specification ISO/TS 17033 provide internationally agreed methods for detailing such claims, ensuring consistency and credibility across the world.

Standing billboard at COP26 event centre saying: "We can do this, if we act now".

The event also emphasized the importance of the recently approved London Declaration to combat climate change through standards. ISO and its members promise to embed key climate considerations into every new standard that is created. The declaration outlines ISO’s commitment to work with its members, stakeholders and partners to ensure that International Standards and other technical publications accelerate the successful achievement of the Paris Agreement, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the United Nations Call for Action on Adaptation and Resilience.

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