Why COP27 is more relevant than ever
Otherwise known as the Conferences of the Parties (COP), the UN Climate Change Conference has taken place every year since 1995. It’s publicized as an important event in the global political calendar, carving out the space for politicians, experts, private sector stakeholders, and civil society groups to find ways to tackle the issue of climate change.
However, despite meeting every year for the past 27 years, world leaders have not been able to curb global warming, as evidenced by the fact that global surface temperatures have steadily increased by 0.2°C per decade in the past 30 years.
|From 1990 to 2019, the total warming effect from greenhouse gases added by humans to the Earth’s atmosphere increased by 45%.|
Notably, COP27 saw fewer world leaders in attendance in comparison to last year’s summit, which leads many to question not only the effectiveness of this type of political get-together, but also the willingness of politicians the world over to actually acknowledge the importance of climate action.
Whose responsibility is it?
The Paris Agreement (signed by 196 parties during 2015’s COP21 in Paris) is perhaps the most recognizable measure taken by COP members to lay down ground rules and specific goals, which need to be met on both national and international levels. Importantly, the Paris Agreement also included the capacity of countries to cooperate in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
|Climate change is a global emergency that goes beyond national borders. It is an issue that requires international cooperation and coordinated solutions at all levels.|
– United Nations
Cooperation between nations is imperative in order to tackle this global issue, but it’s vitally important to recognize the discrepancy of cause and effect between countries: most greenhouse emissions come from developed nations, while developing countries, who have contributed the least to global warming, are paying the highest price by finding themselves at the front lines of natural disasters.
Loss and damage, and climate justice
With COP27 having taken place in Egypt, conference attendees couldn’t help but focus on developing markets, which are some of the most vulnerable despite being among the lowest emitters of greenhouse gases. Generally, countries that bear the brunt of climate-related disasters (floods, droughts, fires) often do not have the resources needed to recover.
That’s why one of the most important points of discussion during COP27 was the idea that developed nations should provide financial support so as to address this imbalance. Despite long-time opposition from the US and the EU, the conference closed with a breakthrough agreement to provide “loss and damage” funding for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters – marking an important step in the right direction towards climate justice.
“This outcome moves us forward,” said Simon Stiell, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary. “We have determined a way forward on a decades-long conversation on funding for loss and damage – deliberating over how we address the impacts on communities whose lives and livelihoods have been ruined by the very worst impacts of climate change.”
The goals that matter most
While climate change is a global issue, countries are held individually accountable by way of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The Paris Agreement does not specifically define the actions that each country must take to meet their NDCs, but it does stipulate that all countries must provide an update on their progress every five years.
The benchmarks towards progress are there, but the lines are blurred enough that countries such as Switzerland are finding ways to finance green projects outside of their own borders and taking credit for reduced emissions, without necessarily changing their own policies or reducing their own national footprint.
By allowing these tactics, which conflate international collaboration with national responsibility, the COP and Paris Agreement risk losing credibility. Already, many participating governments face accusations of greenwashing from think tanks, NGOs, and civil society groups. It’s important to stress the role that civil society plays, most of all, in holding larger players accountable, because real change can only be said to have taken place once civil society benefits.
|An ESG approach is the only way to measure lasting impact, since it looks out for the benefit of society, as much as the benefit of the environment and the economic bottom line. It’s no longer enough to simply make pledges – it’s time for real action. Read more on how businesses can avoid greenwashing and act for real change, here.|
From pledge to practice
According to Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis that tracks government climate action and measures it against the agreed-upon Paris Agreements, only 21 countries submitted their updated national climate commitments one week prior to COP27.
If we are to continue counting on mechanisms like COP and the Paris Agreement, it’s important to question their effectiveness. Operating in a gray area, the Agreement is legally binding, but there are no penalties for countries that don’t meet their targets.
The geopolitical crisis of 2022 has certainly pushed governments to embrace more alternative energy sources, and we have seen some historic measures in support of green energy (most notably, Biden’s IRA). However, many EU countries have also ramped up coal-fired power generation, in addition to forming new deals with countries in Africa to explore new gas fields.
All this in spite of the warnings by the International Energy Agency that any more fossil fuel development will definitely lead to a climate breakdown.
However, there are reasons for optimism. According to recent data released by energy think-tank Ember, global electricity demand growth was met entirely by renewable power in the first half of 2022, demonstrating that the world can be powered without fossil fuels – as long as the will to do so exists.
From public to private
As governments fall short of their pledges, the private sector is determinedly shifting towards sustainable initiatives. More and more, investors are seeking stability, which forces them to look at issues and factors beyond traditional financial analysis.
The concept of sustainable financing goes hand in hand with environmental and social impact assessment. Climate change features prominently within sustainable finance considerations, because there are lots of risk factors involved when it comes to global warming. These can include physical risks, such as damages from weather-related events. Although these may be difficult to quantify, insurance losses from climate-related natural disasters are said to be four times higher than 40 years ago.
It’s no wonder that growing numbers of influential companies are joining the RE100 initiative, a global corporate renewable energy movement.
In general, global energy investments are set to increase by 8% in 2022, with most of these being directed towards green energy. But while COP26 was seen as the conference to shift more of the weight from governments towards the private sector, it’s up to this year’s COP27 to further define the parameters by which the private sector can best finance the energy transition.
On the road towards net zero, we believe it’s important to be critical, while also taking note of good practices. Projects such as the ones below are leading by example, affecting change on a regional level, and inspiring change on a global scale.
|Country||Project||What sets it apart|
|Ecuador||Rights of Nature||The first country in the world to recognize the rights of nature in its constitution, setting a precedent for others to do the same.|
|European Union||The European Climate Law||Makes the EU’s commitment to reaching climate neutrality by 2050 legally binding, and sets an intermediate target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.|
|United States||President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience, PREPARE||The United States is rapidly increasing its support of adaptation and resilience programming to help more than half a billion people in developing countries adapt to and manage the impacts of climate change.|
One of the benefits of having a global summit for climate change is how it sets up, on a world stage, the call for urgent climate action. Goals such as net zero by 2050, for example, solidify a narrative that places the future at our doorstep.
The fact remains that temperatures continue to rise. It’s also a fact that the energy sector has a major impact on climate, as it accounts for roughly two thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, energy needs continue to grow.
A clean energy strategy is therefore a surefire way to meet national (public and private) and international net zero targets. Why not work with Atlas, on the road to meeting those targets?
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