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18 Nov 2022

Thoughts on COP 27 and what it means for hospitality by Bob Gordon

The hospitality sector is strong and resilient, but boy has it been a tough time. Successive waves of crisis – Brexit, covid, energy prices and cost of living – and as the country moves into recession, predicted to be one of the longest in modern times, we barely have time to get up from one wave before the next one comes crashing over us. 

It may not be front of mind for everyone, but the biggest wave has yet to break. Climate change isn’t just one wave, it is multiple tsunamis, and there are many signs that they’re already on their way. Gas prices were increasing before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The price of soy in 2022 is more than double the long-term average, and the extreme temperatures this summer interrupted supply, from tomatoes in Spain to chicken in the UK. 

The sector has accelerated its sustainability efforts substantially over the last five years, and it is now commonplace for hospitality companies to have undertaken a carbon footprint (over 90% of Zero Carbon Forum members have completed a footprint). Operators are reducing energy consumption, managing waste more sustainably and engaging their teams and their customers. It’s a strong start, but let’s be clear, these are easy pickings – the hard work is yet to come. 

The sector must take greater responsibility, and our governments must take greater responsibility. The international process of COP must deliver, because currently it isn’t delivering enough! Let’s quickly recap on where we are. Global average temperatures are 1.2 degrees warmer than pre-industrial averages. The world’s scientists have told us that we need to limit warming to a maximum of 2 degrees, ideally 1.5 degrees. Anything beyond that will have disastrous consequences.

At 1.2 degrees of warming, we are already witnessing extreme weather events that are impacting the global population. In hospitality, we are contending with interrupted food supply and increasing volatility in the market. As with many business sectors, hospitality thrives when the operating environment is consistent and predictable. Without consistency, costs will continue to go through the roof, challenging the sectors’ existence.

The UN has stated that there is “no credible pathway” to avoid breaching 1.5 degrees of warming. It is clear to all that commitments made by nation states are insufficient. Even if countries step up and honour their pledges, we are expected to see an increase of more than 2.5 degrees. 

COP27 appears to follow the pattern of previous meetings. Individuals are calling out the scale of the challenge and the lack of progress. Some governments are making positive noises, but others are playing politics with the language. In reality, action is what’s required. Targets have been missed, commitments are lacking, and we’re just talking about the basics. At COP26, governments committed to revise their plans within a year, but 85% have failed to submit their homework. What is the action that will deliver change?

The biggest and quickest way to cut your carbon footprint is to transition away from fossil fuels. In hospitality, 80% of the ZCF’s members are on renewable electricity contracts, and many are transitioning away from gas, working towards being powered by 100% renewable energy. 

To really drive down emissions and accelerate change in hospitality, we have to reduce the impact of the food and drink we serve. Many businesses are introducing energy efficient equipment, training teams to reduce energy consumption and transitioning deliveries to electric vehicles. However, where we can have the biggest impact is by collaborating with our suppliers to improve our understanding and reduce the impact of our food, such as sourcing local and seasonable ingredients and communicating and educating our customers to reduce plate waste and increase and promote plant-based menu options.

The hospitality sector may be too distracted by the immediate crises to turn its attention to COP27. However, if there is one lesson it can teach us, it’s this. We must collaborate, and we must work together if we are to overcome this life-threatening challenge. The UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, said it well in his opening speech: “This is our only hope of meeting our climate goals. Humanity has a choice – co-operate or perish. It is either a climate solidarity pact or a collective suicide pact.”

Collaboration offers the biggest opportunity of all. If we improve alignment of our understanding and our action, we will have more impact. If we all talk to our supply chain with the same voice about the same issues at the same time, there will be more clarity to enable action to be taken. The future of our food supply chain, and therefore our sector, depends on it. 

Despite our challenges, by creating the Zero Carbon Forum, the sector has shown how industries can devise a pathway to cut carbon at pace and implement it.  In just over 12 months, we’ve launched our industry roadmap and identified the 150 initiatives businesses in the sector can take to reduce emissions. The sector shift to buying renewable power has saved more than 500,000 tonnes of carbon alone. Through our action groups, we will secure our food supply and our sector’s future. Collaborative action for the sector is our greatest asset.

Bob Gordon is director of the Zero Carbon Forum, an industry collaboration supporting the hospitality sector to reach net zero together at pace

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