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Opinion

Banks wrestle with COP26 logistics

Want to know what banks will be doing at COP26? Give them a minute and they’ll get back to you…

Lucy Fitzgeorge-Parker ESG 1920px.jpg

For those who care about the future of the planet, the burning questions ahead of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow are: whether or not the last parts of the Paris Agreement can finally be hammered out; how carbon markets will evolve: and whether or not countries will commit to suitably ambitious emissions reduction targets.

Those concerned about social justice as well as climate fret that representatives of poorer nations won’t be able to make their voices heard because of Covid restrictions and the spiralling cost of attendance. According to The Guardian, the cost of setting up a stall is up 30% higher than usual due to supply-chain and labour shortages.

The most pressing concern is trying to work out what on earth – no pun intended – will be going on in Glasgow

Bankers and asset managers are presumably worrying about these issues as well. But from talking to some of them over the past few weeks, I can confirm that the most pressing concern across the sector is trying to work out what on earth – no pun intended – will be going on in Glasgow.

With less than a month to go until the start of the conference on October 31, no one seems to have much of an idea. When I gave her the dates I will be attending, one bank PR commented: “You’re almost the only person I’ve spoken to who has a definite plan!”

Again, this confusion is of course Covid-related. Until late August, many were still doubtful if the physical event would go ahead at all. Many banks hedged their bets and started planning virtual events, only to wake up last month to the realization that Glasgow was happening and they needed to be there.

That is where it all got a bit complicated. While it is clear now that there will be a physical event, it is equally clear that it will be different from previous COPs.

For one thing, capacity for delegates is just 20% of what it was at the last conference in Madrid in 2019. That means organizations must be very selective about who they send – and they’ve had to make their minds up pretty fast, given that the deadline for registering attendees was yesterday, October 7.

The good news is that, by all accounts, there will be plenty of senior representation.

“We’re hearing that a lot of corporates are sending board-level people,” says one banker.

Financial sector chief sustainability officers, along with other C-suite execs, are also expected to turn out en-masse.

But if banks have had to decide on who to send, they seem to have made much less progress on working out what the lucky few will do once they get there.

No one seems entirely clear what Covid requirements will be in place, but reports suggest that movement between the different parts of the conference may be restricted.

“We’re not even sure we’ll be able to get into the same zone as our clients,” says one banker plaintively.

Get physical

Complicating things further is the fact that it is still not clear if either clients or bankers want physical meetings. Some regular COP attendees say they are not planning to travel to Glasgow and expect to be doing remote events.

For one bank, the answer is to focus on the corporates who have signed up as partners for the event.

“At least we know they’ll be there,” says a member of its comms team.

Others are trying to figure out how to do hybrid events in a conference venue, which sounds like a recipe for disaster.

As one banker put it: “Everyone’s trying to figure out in the dark what everyone else is doing.”

Even those who did plan early for Glasgow are not immune to the general chaos. As hotels were block-booked by national delegations, many opted for Airbnbs – which back in May, when a physical event seemed unlikely, were going at around £90 a night for a one-bedroom flat.

The same properties are now fetching well over £700 a night. Unsurprisingly some of owners have ditched their original bookers to take advantage of the lucrative last-minute rush for accommodation.

Hopefully, much of the fog of confusion will lift over the next couple of weeks – but then again, bankers have been telling me since mid-September that they were hoping to have some clarity on their plans “by next week”.

If not, those of us heading to Glasgow may be travelling more in hope than expectation. One thing is for sure, it is going to be a COP to remember.

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