he Road to COP26: Why this Year’s Global Conference on Climate Change is the Most Critical Ever

The Road to COP26: Why this Year’s Global Conference on Climate Change is the Most Critical Ever

  • September 22, 2021

We’ll never forget the summer of ‘21.

Kicked off by a heat dome in late June and followed by devastating forest fires and record-setting temperatures, summer threw crippling curveballs into the tourism industry’s journey towards economic recovery and resulted in disastrous losses for British Columbians. Once again, climate change cost BC’s economy billions of dollars, following a trend of wildfire activity in 2017 and 2018, and a devastating pine beetle infestation more than a decade ago.

But this summer was different. This time, we are acutely aware of the toll climate change is taking on our physical and mental health, and the way it encroaches on our daily life. Truly, these are urgent times. And while all three levels of government have created climate change mitigation strategies and plans, what is really needed is unprecedented cooperation at the next major global climate conference, COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Enough talk: words won’t reverse climate change

The 26th Convening of the Parties, better known as COP26, is a critical part of the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This annual gathering of member countries and civil society observers is key to aligning the world’s governments and policymakers around important greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets introduced to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. At every fifth COP event, countries adjust their targets – known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – and 2021 is one of those years, making COP26 particularly significant.

Also of note: every seven years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases its “State of the Climate” report – and again, 2021 is one of those years. Published in early September, the report is the most dire assessment on global climate yet. It tells us the world is not on track to meet the agreed-upon targets established at COP21 in Paris. And that means we need to make some tough decisions at COP26, which is shaping up to be the most important climate change conference in history.

Many world leaders have echoed this sentiment of COP26’s importance, and the general population is more aware than ever thanks to mainstream media coverage and dramatic, unprecedented climate events around the world. But let’s be clear: COP26 is a target-setting exercise, alongside a few grand statements about global finance commitments and inclusion of all nations. It’s a lot of talk at a time when the world is desperate for action and meaningful results.

An unstable relationship: climate change and the economy

So what does this mean for our local economy and our local businesses? If effective carbon pricing takes hold and reflects the true cost of fossil fuels, will it become too expensive to import goods? Will climate change inspire the repatriation of certain parts of our supply chain, creating more local jobs? Or will it inspire innovation in shipping, as an incumbent global industry takes on the responsibility of adopting cleaner technologies and alternative fuels? If agricultural centres in California and Mexico become too unstable due to climate change, will our governments finally address the pending food security issue and create new opportunities and industries for our farmers and agtech innovators? These are just a couple of examples of the potential economic transformation that could happen in an effort to position Vancouver and BC for the future economy.

Collectively, in the face of climate risk and economic uncertainty, and as a local economy of businesses, talent, innovators and institutions, we in Vancouver need to decide if we are going to lead positive inclusive change and work to transform the economy for the benefit of all British Columbians, or if we are going to continue to wait for policy responses that will inevitably arrive too late and fall short in achieving meaningful climate ambitions.

At the Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC), we believe there are many opportunities to grasp in this urgent transition to a lower-carbon (or zero-carbon) economy. They include advancing the circular economy, supporting green innovation, attracting more green capital, and ensuring no worker is left behind and given every chance to retool for the future. And the VEC will continue to develop initiatives that support our economy in these areas.

One example of supporting green innovation is our Project Greenlight (PGL) program. PGL helps innovators advance their cleantech solutions and assist major enterprises in Metro Vancouver in accelerating their transition to low-carbon operations by providing access to infrastructure and assets for pilot-testing purposes. The program’s founding members are City of Vancouver, City of New Westminster, TransLink, FortisBC and QuadReal Property Group, and with their participation we hope to accelerate smart and sustainable transformation across our local economy, including the creation of more sustainable jobs and support of IP development.

How you can help in the battle against climate change

We applaud the bold targets that are being established at COP26, but are also fearful they won’t be enough to mitigate the worst effects of climate change on our local economy. Ultimately, it’s the grassroots execution and scaling of programs like Project Greenlight that make a meaningful impact. If you are a climate solutions provider or an infrastructure/asset owner, contact us to learn if Project Greenlight is a good fit for your solution.


Bryan Buggey

Director, Economic Transformation and Climate Action
A senior executive with more than three decades of experience as a business leader in entrepreneurship, sustainability, innovation, consulting, and economic development. The breadth and depth of his experience includes Global 100 enterprises, entrepreneurial startups, scaling companies and the public sector.

At VEC, Bryan has been engaged in leading teams in the knowledge-based, low-carbon, circular economy by leading strategic initiatives, investment, sector development, and programs aimed at supporting innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, businesses, and other stakeholders in the Green Economy, Technology & Innovation sectors.