written by Alistair Turner


Shortly before IBTM World 2021 in Barcelona, another event of global significance took place. It is not understating the case that the Conference of Parties (COP) 26 represents one of the most important events that will ever take place in the global fight against climate change.

The event itself, which took place at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), Glasgow, Scotland, 1st - 12th November 2021, is organised by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the entity tasked with supporting the global response to the threat of climate change. Out of previous ‘COPs’ treaties have been agreed, committing its signatories to far reaching action at a state level; these include both the Kyoto and Paris Climate Change treaties.

This particular event takes place under the backdrop of an almost global swath of public opinion towards a more sustainable future. Within this report last year, sustainability issues were comprehensively studied, identifying the growing pressure from; staff towards their employers; consumers towards their brands; shareholders towards their investments; and citizens towards their governments.

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Earlier this year the IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) issued a report with the headline grabbing phrase ‘a code red for humanity’, advising that the target of bringing global warming levels below that of 1.5 0C above pre-industrial levels, was likely to fail. It was at COP21 in Paris, where signatories committed to this level; now the IPCC report has set the scene for the forthcoming COP in Glasgow and the massive challenge its members face as it looks to set a new plan for the planet’s future.

In the meantime, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a trend has emerged towards greater local community engagement, twinned with more global awareness. This ‘Local-Global’ trend has also heightened the worldwide societal response to climate change and increased action across businesses, industry, and government. One of the more positive trends from the pandemic was a greater awareness of the connectivity of every part of the planet, and how we are each both responsible and reliant on those local, national, and international communities.

There has been widespread action from politicians around the world; the new Biden administration in the US addressed climate change within days of the new President being sworn in.

President Xi in China has also committed the country to achieve major targets in fighting climate change, including realizing a carbon emissions peak in 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality in 2060. Equally, very few businesses are yet to address the subject for fear of looking backward or behind in their commitments to the planet; every day we see new companies making their own Net Zero targets.

Both the business and governmental commitments should interest those in the meetings and events industry. Climate change is not just on the minds of every delegate entering into a meeting or event in 2022, it is also high on the corporate agenda of those businesses that fund them.

Across the world, the meetings and events industry is assessing both its responsibility and ability to make tangible change through the running of events. A number of initiatives are already in place across many territories that allow organisers to measure, track, report and improve CO2 outputs, both within the meeting itself, but also outside of it; from the supply chain associated with the event to delegate travel to and from it.

Meetings and events planners have the opportunity to make major changes by doing small things that make a big difference, because of the scale of people and produce that is used. However, the conversation has moved away from traditional ‘smaller’ initiatives around saving energy, reducing single use plastics etc. to how the industry can make bigger contributions.

Food will play a large part in the conversation. In 2020, this report explored the growing popularity of the hashtag #FORO (fear of running out), a movement in the UK towards the reduction of food waste by encouraging planners to under order, not over order, delegate meals. Now, global food business Compass has committed itself to a Net Zero target by 2030 that will affect hundreds of meetings and event venues. At the same time, other brands are banning air freighted ingredients while many more still are mandating the end of beef being served on menus for meetings over 50.

What is most interesting is the perception of the meetings and events industry in the eyes of those looking to attack industries that are deemed harmful to the planet. In the past; meetings and events has taken its share of reputational damage because of the global nature of what it does, and the often-wasteful practices that take place in some events.

However, COP26 itself is being hailed as one of the most significant events of its generation, and many within the environmental movement are campaigning on the importance of it being face to face, despite some negative media reports.

COP26 will, hopefully, not only signal renewed optimism in the face of one of the most clear and present threats to the global population, but also prove that it is only through meeting face to face, that such monumental threats can be taken on. The industry needs to continue to be the solution to climate change, and not the problem.

The Events Industry Kicks Off Towards Net Zero

The Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) announced plans to host a new initiative earlier this year – Net Zero Carbon Events - connecting the events industry globally to the rapidly growing movement towards net zero by 2050.

Through this initiative, JMIC aims to link with all stakeholders in the corporate, professional, academic and destination communities world-wide, that have also committed to engagement, in what is one of the biggest collective challenges faced today, and to invite those that have not done so yet to join.

The Net Zero Carbon Events initiative aims to bring together a wide range of industry stakeholders to:

  • Jointly communicate our industry’s commitment to tackling climate change and driving towards net zero by 2050
  • Develop common methodologies for measuring the industry’s direct, indirect and supply chain greenhouse gas emissions
  • Construct an industry-wide roadmap towards Net Zero by 2050, and emissions reductions by 2030 in line with the Paris Agreement, with support and guidance on key issues
  • Foster collaboration with suppliers and customers to ensure alignment and common approaches
  • Establish common mechanisms for reporting progress and sharing best practice

The new initiative arises from the work of an organizing task force initiated by JMIC members UFI, AIPC and ICCA, joined by representatives of Emerald Expositions (US), Freeman (US), HKCEC (China), Informa (UK), Javits Center (US), MCI (Switzerland), Messe München (Germany), RX (UK) and Scottish Event Campus (UK) and it was born from a discussion with the UNFCCC secretariat which is also supporting the initiative.