For an event which shapes so much opinion around climate and sustainability, the United Nations (UN)-organised COP series seems to be very good at dividing it.
Research conducted by Sustainable Future News has shown mixed views about the conference in general. More than two thirds (69%) of the 500 respondents in a prominent climate change LinkedIn group said no to the question ‘Do you think the COP process is effective in fighting climate change?’ Yet 94% of more than 300 respondents in a separate survey said they believed COP was ‘providing value in the fight against climate change’.
But with COP27, in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, are people seeing this value? Greta Thunburg doesn’t seem to, for one. The climate activist, who attended COP26 in Glasgow, recently told an audience in London that the events were ‘mainly used as an opportunity for leaders and people in power to get attention, using many different kinds of greenwashing.’ She isn’t going this time around.
Another area of concern has traditionally been around tangible, long-lasting impact. Dissenters in the second SFN survey, when asked to show their working, broadly rounded on this theme. One called it ‘stable and safe’. Another bemoaned a lack of a breakthrough. A third put it most pithily: “Things don’t get changed.”
For every potential Paris Agreement, there is another Copenhagen calamity, with 2009 failing to achieve a binding agreement for long-term action.
Glasgow last year did see a deal, and progress made on reducing methane emissions and reversing deforestation among others, but its impact was analysed as negligible at best. Friends of the Earth called it a ‘real missed opportunity to meaningfully reduce emissions in the global north.’ The science journal Nature said it ‘hadn’t solved the problem.’ France 24 reported that it offered ‘breakthroughs’ but also ‘deep disappointment.’
Mark Perera, CEO and founder of supplier collaboration platform Vizibl, told Sustainable Future News of his disappointment that the first explicit plans to reduce coal usage globally were changed in the final wording from ‘phasing out’ to ‘phasing down’, a move fiercely criticised by multiple nations, from Switzerland to Mexico. In mitigation, Thunburg did note that the COPs ‘are not really meant to change the whole system.’
In many ways, the pre-event headlines haven’t helped. It’s understandable why news organisations focus on rows rather than regulations; the Coca-Cola sponsorship stories were an obvious example. In the UK at least, there has been enough hot air to power dozens of flights to Egypt alone in the games of musical chairs played by potential attendees.
None of this does the event much good. Yet it must be noted that this COP started off on the wrong foot anyway; the optics of hosting the world’s major climate gathering in Egypt, much like the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar, are not great. Thunburg has previously tweeted her solidarity towards ‘prisoners of conscience’ in Egypt, where President Abdul Fattah El-Sisi has, in the words of TIME, ‘treated civil society as enemies of the state.’
“That not one of the accredited NGOs this year is a human rights organisation, or any of the independent human rights groups working on climate justice in Egypt, is troubling given how closely climate change issues are entwined with economic prosperity, human rights, and political freedoms,” says Perera.
Yet there are areas of hope to be found. Perera does see a benefit of a COP in Africa, for one; hosting the event at the geographical heart of climate change will give African nations ‘the opportunity to make their voices heard.’ The World Economic Forum notes a pathway between the ‘lofty commitments’ made in Glasgow on industry decarbonisation and implementation in a ‘just and equitable way in emerging economies’ for Sharm-el-Sheikh.
From a business point of view, there is a clear sense of optimism. 75% of the 700 executives polled by Deloitte said COP27 will ‘generate the outcomes needed to conform to the Paris Agreement’. 87% agreed that investing in environmentally sustainable practices has long-term economic benefits. Yet government support was mixed; 55% said they supported new government regulations and policies, but only 27% wanted to prioritise enforcing existing regulations.
Getting everyone to agree is, of course, complicated. But the stakes are higher than ever this time. Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, said that the world was in a ‘life-or-death struggle’ for survival. “The climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win,” he said. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) secretary-general, John Denton, underscored the importance of a successful COP for business in an open letter. “We certainly appreciate the complexity of the decisions governments are currently facing on several fronts, but climate change is not an agenda we can afford to push back on our global schedule,” he wrote.
Will the need for speed help spur stakeholders on? Jamie Hyman, co-founder and managing director of sustainable strategists Snow Hill, cites Guterres and notes the key steps. “To win the race, the parties must not only commit to widespread, ambitious strategies, but they must fund them generously, support them vocally, and then be transparent about what worked, what could be improved upon, and what should be the next move,” Hyman tells Sustainable Future News.
“In other words, to get things right, our leaders must act like leaders.”
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