Exclusive: En+ chairman and former minister Lord Barker warns ‘don’t expect a big bang’ from COP26
Many eyes were on Lord Gregory Barker of Battle earlier this week, as ‘his’ global energy giant En+ was at the heart of COP26’s complex ecosystem of executives, government reps, lobbyists, NGOs and activists in Glasgow.
Lord Barker was appointed independent chairman of the En+ Group board of directors in October 2017, just before the company’s IPO in London.
In February 2019, he became executive chairman of the board of the LSE-listed group, the largest producer of low-carbon aluminium globally and the world’s largest hydropower player, with nearly 90,000 employees in dozens of countries around the world.
Lord Barker was previously a member of the House of Commons from 2001 to 2015. From 2010 to 2014, he served as UK Minister of State for Energy & Climate Change under Prime Minister David Cameron.
City A.M. caught up with the Tory veteran on the sidelines of COP26.
The global and metals sectors look back on a number of volatile years. The global downturn, increased regulation and changing investor demands are rapidly transforming the industry, particularly when it comes to climate change and ESG.
COP26 is a great photo opportunity so if we are realistic, can we expect some serious change after this summit?
People shouldn’t expect a big bang, but this is an important milestone on the journey to global net zero and there have been a raft of new announcements from both governments and the private sector. We should expect a big step change in the transition to a low carbon economy both from governments and private sector. We should also expect governments and the private sector to significantly raise their ambitions around the speed in which they embrace sustainable operations.
Should one of the outcomes of this conference be more rules and regulations?
The right rules and regulations are absolutely essential. For business to thrive and innovation to flourish, business needs long term certainty, clear uniform standards and often the challenge of regulation as well. We’ve seen this work very successfully in the past where it has been applied to the automotive sector for example, where regulations to increase the energy efficiency of cars and commercial vehicles have really driven change that has benefited everyone.
Individual governments and business cannot change the world in isolation
Now we need to see that right across a whole range of sectors. A collective global approach towards rules and smart regulations is required in order to properly transition to a low carbon economy.
In light of COP26, where do you want to take your company in the next 5 years?
En+ Group is already the global leader in low carbon aluminium and the world’s biggest producer of hydropower, but we have no intention of resting on our laurels. We are a growth company and are determined to maintain and enhance our sector leadership in an increasingly competitive low carbon environment.
There is going to be huge demand for zero-carbon aluminium and this will enable us to grow our business. As we produce more products that have greater strength and flexibility we will be able to expand into a broader range of sectors with our aluminium being used for a wider range of applications in the green economy from renewable energy to electric vehicles.
What are the main climate obstacles your industry currently faces?
The aluminium sector needs to step up and work together in greater partnership to decarbonise at a pace and scale that is consistent with the Paris targets. We must continue to work with industry peers to promote transparency on carbon reporting and support initiatives that drive innovation and improve access to lower carbon metals. As a sector we need to innovate more.
So many industries will depend on low carbon aluminium, such as electric vehicles, sustainable packaging and renewable energy infrastructure, that it will ultimately form the foundation of a low carbon economy
We not only need to drive down the carbon content of aluminium, but we need to increase the production of this vital, sustainable metal.
How do profitability and a greener sector go hand in hand?
By responding to the demands of our customers for a higher quality low carbon product we will continue to lead our market and command a premium for our products. Our world leading hydropower assets give us a competitive advantage as this large and reliable energy source is not easily replicated elsewhere. Sustainable businesses the world over need access to low-carbon aluminium which will prove to be an essential cornerstone of a low-carbon economy.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Never before has the role of the private sector been as important to the outcome of an intergovernmental conference. We can’t just leave the climate change agenda to politicians; we all have a part to play and certainly the aluminium sector must step up and play its role to the fore; and next time you buy an aluminium product, check the carbon footprint.