COP26: Empowering everyone to build back greener 

By Clare Barclay, Chief Executive Officer, Microsoft UK

I am delighted that Microsoft has been named as a Principal Partner for the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021 (COP26) and that the UK will be playing such a pivotal role in delivering climate progress.  

We have a very limited amount of time to accomplish what will be the most significant behavioural, technological and societal transformation in modern human history.  We must reverse the negative impacts of the industrial revolution and the last hundred years whilst holding onto the advances in medicine, science, food production and energy provision that have enabled our way of life to exist.  

Doing so will require transitioning to net zero through carbon reduction and removal strategies. Failing to do so risks unprecedented social and economic disruption. This year, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), represents in many ways our last chance to agree on a coordinated approach. But it is also an opportunity. The UK led the world once in transforming industry and society, now we must do so again. 

The decisions we make in the months ahead must establish the conditions for inclusive economic opportunity and societal resilience against climate change. Our involvement in COP26 follows bold sustainability commitments that we made in 2020. These include a plan to be carbon negative by 2030, remove from the environment all the carbon Microsoft has emitted since its founding by 2050, be water positive by 2030, zero waste by 2030 and to protect ecosystems by developing a Planetary Computer.  

There is no other forum like COP26 to bring the people needed together to focus on all the ways to drive change. It offers the opportunity for public and private collaboration to establish the conditions for a net zero economy and share learnings on our journey to reduce carbon emissions. 

Cop26 logo

We appreciate it is challenging to make and meet meaningful carbon reduction goals without the ability to measure carbon emissions. That is why we will be focused on:

  • The meaning of net zero – a global definition for any net zero commitment grounded in both carbon removal and reduction
  • The measurement of net zero – protocols and digital tools to ensure that progress reported on an accounting statement is truly progress
  • The markets to support net zero – both the financial and human investment needed across the economy. 

We believe in the transformative potential for technology to help find solutions to some of the biggest climate challenges facing the UK. Edge compute power and IoT for climate risk adaptation strategies to protect society from the impacts of extreme weather including flash floods and heatwaves with data for more accurate weather warnings and decision making. AI, cloud and data science for robust emissions measurement and digital twins to improve load demand on the grid and deliver the renewable and sustainable energy sources that people so desperately want. 

As host nation, the UK has everything it needs to play a leading role in tackling climate change, but the next chapter requires wholescale business and sector transformation. Earlier this year the UK government enshrined in law a new target to slash emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, building on a 2019 pledge to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. A third of the UK’s biggest companies have followed suit, signing up to the United Nations’ Race to Zero campaign. 

At COP26 we want to help governments and organisations better understand and access digital technologies that can help with end-to-end carbon reduction strategies. The UK has a huge opportunity in November to take a lead in the digitisation of the net zero transition. We are helping organisations to measure, map and model current and future energy use and carbon impact. We want more organisations to take control of their own environmental impact, better understand carbon emissions, measure them and accurately account for their reduction. 

Using our digital technologies, NatWest is helping businesses better understand their carbon footprint and create tailored action plans; GRIDSERVE opened the first electric car forecourt run entirely on the cloud, which makes charging a car as simple as filling up; and we’re building a powerful Met Office supercomputer to further the UK’s capability to model climate change and lead in climate science expertise. 

Sharing expertise and working together creates positive results, which is why it’s inspiring to see that so many nations will attend COP26 this year. 

While the summit will be a key moment in building a net-zero legacy, the work begins now. As the UK recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important that we build back stronger with sustainability in mind. Money and jobs must flow into carbon reduction and removal. 

 In doing so, we will create a healthy society and a healthy economy here in the UK and beyond.  


To learn more about Microsoft’s sustainability work, click here.