12 November, 2021

COP 26: Drive Change Through Social Value

HACT Digital Lead, Michael McLaughlin, shares his thoughts from his experience at COP 26

As 30,000 delegates have descended upon my home city for COP26, it has not been those representatives from NGOs, businesses, journalists, lobbyists, and negotiators who have captured the imagination. Ironically the 100,000 protesters who marched through the streets of Glasgow, demanding more action from those in charge, seem more able to drive change.

The fifth anniversary of the previous United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, where the Paris Agreement climate treaty was signed to limit global warming under 1.5 ºC, has seen people come far and wide and brought famous faces to Glasgow. These have included Sir David Attenborough the COP26 People’s Advocate, activist Greta Thunberg, and UN Secretary General António Guterres. However, as yet – the noises coming out of the formal Presidential Programme do not suggest anything like the required progress.

Aims of the formal conference were driving reduced emissions by centring on working together and adapting to protect communities. So, it is perhaps no surprise that the more human element and fringe events provide more hope for the future, events like Saturday’s march which celebrated local people. Youth and community activists and Indigenous People across the globe really showed the strength of feeling and ability to challenge the status quo, which is currently driving us to the sharp edge of the environmental impacts of climate change.

Here at HACT, we spent much of this year thinking not only about the importance and performance of properties but as much about the building safety bill and fire safety as it has been about measuring and the implications of sustainability levels of properties. As social housing organisations consider the financial responsibilities to retrofitting properties, they also emphasise environmental performance in the form of Environmental Social Governance (ESG) ratings.   With unprecedented demands on social housing organisations’ budgets, it’s more critical than ever to demonstrate the value they bring to residents and communities by unlocking ESG linked investment opportunities and evidencing environmental performance.

Social purpose is fundamental across our sector, with organisations delivering above and beyond providing only bricks and mortar for their tenants.  And the work we do in collecting, measuring and demonstrating the impact of that social value plays a crucial role in better understanding this.  Improving environmental impacts are undoubtedly the most global social value we can support. As HACT look to build some new metrics, including sustainability values through the social value road map – there is further weight to support more robust ESG and impact measures. HACT is about to kick off the Environmental Data Standards project. It is a critical time for the need to use environmental data to support the social housing sector better express their journey to net-zero, supporting the broader aims of communities and cities across the UK.

Having attended several COP26 fringe events, I have listened to and spoken about the role that retrofitting properties, communities, and social housing providers must play to reduce emissions and create sustainability.  However, after witnessing the strength of feeling on the streets of Glasgow – I have been reflecting on the role in which we are very much reliant on people for the world, governments, and social housing organisations to implement any real and lasting change. The positive stories I have listened to all involved mobilisation or behaviour change to support systems or infrastructure.  We need to continue to keep this front and centre as we look to improve the outcomes of sustainable social value.

I heard Sir David King, the UK Government former chief scientific advisor speaking about the need for better leadership, because the change is currently being led by community and youth activists all over the world.  We need to even out this bottom-up approach and ensure that not only are these views, strengths and vision guiding the leadership of those charged with governing countries across the world, but we also need to make the outcomes in which they are calling for are central to our response to climate change.

Infrastructure, regulation, and compliance will be critical. We will continue to work with the social housing sector to support new ways of providing this – but what is most important and what will drive change – is providing people with accessible standards, infrastructure, and services from social housing and beyond to provide better global outcomes.

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