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Gearing up for COP27 – what to expect, and how to avoid disappointment

This article was written by Miguel Oyarbide for Corporate Citizenship - part of SLR. Corporate Citizenship provides ESG strategy, reporting, social and environmental impact and other sustainability consulting services to multi-national companies.

 

COP27 has kicked off in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. A year after Glasgow, the global context has changed in unexpected ways and yet the stakes remain high as ever for our common future. The past year has seen some of the worst extreme weather events on record, providing a stark forewarning of what further warming may bring. So, what can we expect from COP27? And how can you prepare yourself to avoid disappointment?

What came out of Glasgow?

Despite concerns that the final outcomes of COP26 were watered-down, Glasgow did manage to bring about a level of ambition we hadn’t seen in years – to name just a few achievements:

  • The Glasgow Climate Pact saw almost 200 countries agree to strengthening their emissions reduction targets, effectively keeping alive (but “with a weak pulse”) the hope of limiting global average temperature to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels;
  • The Global Methane Pledge brought together 109 countries representing 46% of global methane emissions to slash emissions by 30% by 2030;
  • The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land secured a pledge by 137 countries with 91% of the world’s forests to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030;
  • 45 countries pledged urgent action and investment to protect nature and shift to more sustainable ways of farming – through either the Policy Action Agenda for the Transition to Sustainable Agriculture or the Global Action Agenda for Innovation in Agriculture;
  • 95 high profile companies committed to being Nature-Positive and agreeing to work towards halting and reversing the decline of nature by 2030;
  • The ‘Paris Rulebook’ was finalised – to agree on the mechanisms of carbon markets, common timeframes for emissions reduction targets, and the Enhanced Transparency Framework;
  • And of course, the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) was officially launched to develop “a comprehensive global baseline of high-quality sustainability disclosure standards to meet investors’ information needs” – which was endorsed by over 40 countries and has seen a flurry of activity since then with the publication of the draft standards and the integration of CDSB, SASB and <IR>.

Well, that was a lot of pledges and announcements. So what?

What has happened (and hasn’t) since

At COP26, almost 200 countries committed to come back together in 2022 with stronger commitments, including renewed national emissions reduction targets and more ambitious plans for action. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, only 24 countries have so far submitted their proposals.

The world has of course been, to say the least, quite busy in 2022. While feeling the ongoing shocks of COVID-19 on public health and global supply chains, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered a humanitarian, political and energy crisis – which (in part) has contributed to halting the tentative recovery of 2021, slowing growth, accelerating inflation, and raising concerns about recession.

On top of that, a third of Pakistan flooded. Europe’s hottest summer in 500 years. The Philippines hammered. The whole of Cuba in blackout. And in the United States, Hurricane Ian delivered a brutal reminder that no country and no economy is immune from the climate crisis, highlighted UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last month.

You may say that 2022 has not been a great year and we are still a far-cry from the level of climate action we require. But let’s not dismay.

What to expect

After the hyperactivity of promises at Glasgow, at least three factors will define the success of COP27:

  • Reassurance: COP27 must reinvigorate the momentum achieved at COP26 after a year shaped by shocks. We must see not only renewed emissions reduction targets but, especially, clear implementation plans. All talk and no do can be irritating – and that goes both for countries and corporates: in 2022 no one can credibly claim “net zero” without achieving a science-based target, or celebrate inputs as if they were impacts. At last, the end of greenwashing might be nigh. COP27 should be the COP when we move from commitments to action.
  • Adaptation: at barely 1.1C warming above pre-industrial levels, we are already seeing the devastating effects from shifting climate patterns. So, while climate change mitigation remains crucial, realism requires us to take adaptation seriously. This is especially important for low- and middle-income countries more severely affected by the physical risks of climate change. Against that backdrop, COP27 must unlock climate finance – a commitment of $100 billion annually remains unfulfilled, and we are still missing a “loss and damage finance facility” to assist those most vulnerable and pushed beyond their ability to adapt. The two-year Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme laid out the foundations to discuss how to tackle adaptation and we should see specific outcomes at COP27. In this context, we can expect an elevated role for the voices from the finance and insurance sectors.
  • Just transition: as actions towards decarbonization take shape, they must consider not only those stakeholders most exposed to the physical impacts of climate change, but also those workers and communities most exposed to the risks arising from the transition to a net zero economy. Any implementation plan coming out of COP27 that ignores this will only lead to exacerbate inequalities and even prove impossible to act on. This is equally a point of interest for corporates: any serious climate plan will always require earning and maintaining a social licence to operate to succeed.

How to prepare yourself to avoid disappointment?

We might not see blockbuster announcements at Sharm El-Sheikh at the scale of Glasgow. And that might not be a bad thing. This should be primarily a COP for the implementation plans. Boring, detailed, and technical plans that hold pledges to account would be a positive outcome even if they don’t grab as many headlines. So curb your enthusiasm but prepare for action.

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