COP26 is only the beginning...

Why we must make sure COP26 is only the beginning for action on climate change - Chris Martin, Head of Sustainability at Danske Bank


There was a lot of fanfare and extensive news coverage of COP26, the summit of global leaders in Glasgow which resulted in a new agreement designed to help limit the impact of climate change in the coming decades.

I’ll leave the analysis of the merits of the final deal that was agreed to others, but it was heartening to see widespread acknowledgement of the need to reduce carbon emissions and to hear this pressing issue talked about around the world.

However, what was clear to me as the COP came to an end was that strong guidance and a clear strategy is needed at all levels in terms of what happens next. COP26 wasn’t the conclusion of the process of addressing the negative human impact on the natural world, it was only the beginning.

Summarising the UK’s strategy of attacking the climate crisis on several fronts to reverse the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, Prime Minister Boris Johnston’s catchy slogan before the conference was coal, cash, cars and trees to keep the world to 1.5 degrees.

We know that individuals and business leaders are trying to work out what they can do under each of those categories to make a difference. Let me take you through how we are approaching each of them at Danske Bank.

Coal: The PM used coal as a shorthand for fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas). As an organisation, we’ve already started removing fossil fuels from our properties. By the end of this year 80% of Danske’s standalone branches will be fossil fuel free and we plan to have all our properties fossil fuel free by 2026. We’ve installed solar panels where we can, and 100% of the electricity we use as a business is certified as from renewable sources.

Cars: Perhaps one of the areas of debate people are most familiar with is the need to transition away from society’s reliance on petrol and diesel vehicles. We’ve already changed our car scheme so that from 1st Jan 2022 colleagues can only get an Electric Vehicle, which means by the end of 2025 we’ll have a zero-emissions car fleet.

Cash: As a bank, it’s no surprise that this is an area of particular interest for us. We’ve launched the UK’s first mortgage to be certified carbon neutral by the Carbon Trust, which is designed to help our customers chose more energy efficient lower emissions homes. We’ve just launched Green Loans to support our Corporate & Business customers when they are looking to fund projects which will help them make the transition to a net zero future. Climate awareness has increased, and we are ready to match the demand that has created.

Trees: We’ve seen a huge response from our own colleagues to initiatives such as the creation of wildflower and productive gardens at offices in Dunmurry, and our partnership with Eco Schools NI to deliver similar gardens at primary schools across Northern Ireland. We’re delighted to have achieved Platinum status in Business in the Community NI’s Environmental Benchmarking survey for the fourth year in a row. And when it comes to actual trees, we’re currently working on something very exciting, which I can’t talk about just yet. But watch this space!

Net zero is the big goal for all of these activities and the march towards it will be driven by a combination of customer behaviour, regulation and legislation.

People who own and run businesses are already responding and those who haven’t yet will soon have to. For many large companies, the only way to meet their net zero targets is for their supply chain to also lower emissions, and we’re already aware of cases where businesses have been challenged by large customers about their own net zero strategy.

Like everyone else, Danske Bank is on its own climate journey. We know that the wider goals that emerged from COP26 are much more likely to be achieved if we all make changes for the greater good.