We must focus on what unites us to safeguard our cities – Ruth Duston OBE, OC -

Our CEO Ruth Duston discusses what we need to do to safeguard our cities

Today the focus of COP26 shifts to the built environment, regions and cities. It’s the first time these issues have been discussed since COP 21 and delegates will reflect on the central role that our built environment, regeneration and cities play in the climate crisis.

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COP has heard that cities and the built environment are a big part of the problem but that means they can also be a big part of the solution. Building emissions are responsible for 40% of total greenhouse gas emissions, so while I continue to advocate for the growth of our cities and continued investment, all of us involved in city leadership, stewardship and development have a responsibility to deliver this growth sustainably.

Leadership at every level and deep collaboration are the antidote for a historically fragmented and siloed sector.

It’s welcome that in his COP speech today our mayor Sadiq Khan recognised the can-do attitude of businesses in the capital. This is not however, about pitting the public and private sectors against each other. We must redouble our efforts and find new ways to work together. Much more can be achieved when Government and the private sector collaborates effectively – I see this in action every day. We must focus now on what unites us.

The private sector is pioneering, supported by communities, city leaders and central government, and we are seeing remarkable innovations around the world to combat climate change.

In the UK, BIDs are also playing a vital role and are well placed to amplify the work that our businesses are leading and thereby, deliver economies of scale.

BIDs exist to encourage sustainable growth, leveraging private sector money to fund improvements which benefit communities and the urban environment. The clean, green and safe agenda has certainly been a cornerstone of the BID movement for decades, but it’s only now becoming a mainstream issue for businesses and society.

The KPMG Survey of Sustainability Reporting has tracked monumental changes in how businesses have responded to the global climate crisis since the survey was first published in 1993. Back then, almost 30 years ago, a paltry 12 percent of companies published sustainability reports. Today the figure stands at 80 percent.

Not so long ago, climate change was considered a non-critical, corporate responsibility issue that could bring reputational risks for companies but would have no impact on financial performance. Attitudes now, however, have changed beyond recognition. I predict that climate change is only the first of a series of sustainability or ESG issues which will come to be perceived as financial risks, or indeed, opportunities.

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Many businesses now see that going green can deliver good, sustainable growth. Companies in the City in particular, historically known for its pioneers and entrepreneurs, are at the cutting edge of these new commercial enterprises. Green finance, green construction and building innovation, green tech – London is becoming a global hub for new ways of working, doing business, and investing. Of course, there is a long way to go, and the drive to Net Zero and securing a green future is not assured, however, there are significant moves taking place. The proposed BIDs for the EC area and Fleet Street Quarter in the City are leading the way in driving a collective ESG agenda for their business communities, demonstrating that going green is not just a nice thing to do but must be at the heart of a thriving, vibrant 21st century business district.

In recent years there has been much talk about the value of ESG. BIDs can act rather than talk. They are agile and action orientated, needing to demonstrate return on investment to levy payers. My hope is that the message that comes from Glasgow today is focused around collaboration and meaningful action. I know the private sector stands ready to face up to the climate challenge, and I also know that by working together we can achieve more.

The stakes have never been higher, but there is much to gain. The UN estimates that nearly 70% of the global population will live in a city by 2050 and so the need to safeguard their future is absolutely vital. If we truly embrace collaboration between city governments, businesses, BIDs and communities then not only will we tackle climate change, we will address inequalities across our society, become more resilient and safeguard the future of these global hubs. Surely this is all worth fighting for?