We asked members of our Network - from our expert Fellows to our Youth Advisory Council - to share their thinking on the outcomes of COP27...
CGLN Executive Director
Last year I attended COP26 in Glasgow - it was my first time in attendance at a UN Climate Conference.
While there, working through the main events and a parallel track of business and youth initiatives, I became increasingly encouraged by the sheer volume and practicality of many of the private sector initiatives.
This year observing the events of COP27, I still remain optimistic yet remain more and more disillusioned regarding how the required change is going to come about.
Perhaps we need to look back in order to adequately look forward - so here are the conclusions I have drawn from what I considered to be the three key outcomes from last year.
1. The agreement to allocate US$130 trillion towards net zero by the financial sector (banks, markets, insurers, institutional investors et al) - the initiative now widely known as GFANZ and initiated and led in Glasgow by Mark Carney.
GFANZ has progressed - all member organisations updated their capital allocation practices and are working towards their individual investment targets.
Yet, as commonly is the case, we at CGLN hear from multiple industries where true clean growth innovation is ongoing, that capital investment into their technologies is insufficient and more capital is required. This is often impeded by a lack of adequate understanding of technologies by financiers or a lack of relevant guidelines from regulators.
2. Greater disclosure and transparency for the private sector amid greater scrutiny and ever-rising questions regarding the credibility of decarbonisation pathways by major and minor corporates, which is further accelerated prior to COP26 given multiple cases of greenwashing. And this initiative is truly prospering, not only did GRI introduce a new Universal Standard earlier this year, but the EU approved the new European Sustainability Reporting Standards. The progress is clear here, putting a substantial requirement on companies to not simply tick the box by disclosing relevant metrics but truly embrace and incorporate sustainable practices into their business models and development strategies.
3. The key high-discussion outcome that I was personally encouraged with last year was the agreement “to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions... by the end of 2022” and in conjunction with that, a major step was made with respect to Article 6 of the Paris agreement regarding carbon markets and accounting. Yet only one year later we know that only 22 countries out of 195 Paris accord signatories have updated their NDCs ahead of COP27 and more importantly new pledges made during the COP27 according to the Carbon Trust only make us hopeful of achieving at best 1.7C scenario.
As one can appreciate, I am reflecting only on the three outcomes that I thought were important from COP26 and how they have developed over the past 12 months and into COP27.
Further, I’m making a humble attempt here to see if we are anywhere near the rates of progress required to have to avoid catastrophic outcomes.
My conclusion is that what has been done is not enough, and what is particularly apparent is that there is an even greater and striking differential between private and public sector ambition and ability to act.
I'll quote a recently published piece by one of our CGLN Fellows sharing his perspective on the outcomes of COP27 - that '...we are mopping the floor while the place is flooding.'
Yet is it all that desperate or is there hope and maybe even a glimpse of progress at the end of the tunnel?
CGLN Youth Advisory Councilmember for Agriculture
Some have celebrated the outcomes of COP27, in particular the promise (in principle) of a fund to compensate developing nations who are suffering from adverse climate impacts, caused by developed nations’ fossil-fuel consumption and associated greenhouse gas emissions.
As a climate leader, I have myself met the annual climate event with renewed cynicism and a call to put an end to the COPs. What has begun as an international platform to raise awareness and coordinate actions to address the climate crisis has unfortunately become a greenwashing tokenistic event.
What could have been a great moment for collective action, renewed ambition, concrete implementation plans and redress against climate injustice, was instead a grotesque merry-go-round of fossil fuel lobbyists and well-intentioned but ultimately powerless observers, shut out of the negotiation rooms.
Putting my cynicism aside, COP27 did lead to one good realisation: that groups like CGLN are critical, now more than ever.
Our role as a Youth Council has never been so crystal clear: to continue to educate, to empower others to act, and to catalyse local actions. The latter, I am now convinced more than ever, is our only true pathway for our survival and one that will require the youth to lead.
CGLN Member and Executive Director of Sustainability First
We at Sustainability First are very concerned by the apparent complacency in the messaging from the UK government on action (or inaction) around tackling methane.
Being a leader in a group of laggards on methane is not a sign of ambition or being pioneers in tackling the climate crisis.
The upside of addressing methane effectively is that we could see an almost-instant positive impact. There is a real opportunity to innovate, and the UK (and Ireland) are in a strong position to be able to do this, as the policy thinking and academic clout available to work on e.g. gas networks and agricultural practices, is already there to utilise.
Not acting with speed and agency smells somewhat similar to the emissions that we're talking about!
Professor Sean Smith
CGLN Fellow and Director of the Centre for Future Infrastructure at the University of Edinburgh
One of the most significant aspects of COP27 was the launch of the new ISO guidance for Net Zero.
For a number of years, the structure of Net Zero has been open to speculation and variation in how organisations may approach their ambitions and targets. The new ISO guidance document (IWA:42), an International Working Agreement guidance document, launched on Friday 11th November at COP27 has now set out the key guidelines and mechanisms of a common framework for all organisations to utilise.
ISO stated that “the Net Zero Guidelines tackle a major roadblock for a world where greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to the minimum and balanced by removals: the fragmented net zero governance landscape. Competing approaches and concepts for "Net Zero" sow confusion.
The Guidelines provide a common reference for collective efforts, offering a global basis for harmonizing, understanding, and planning for net zero for actors at the state, regional, city and organizational level.”
Some key points within the guidance include:
Confirmation of the inclusion for Scopes 1, 2 and 3 emissions to be included.
Clarity of evidence when reporting claims and net zero outcomes are also proposed.
Definitions of all key terms are provided.
To also support the acceleration of Net Zero it is recommended that organisations should endeavour to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 from a 2018 baseline.
IWA documents are often functional for a period of 6 years, during which an IWA may then shift to a PAS (Publically Available Standard) or ISO Standard. The publication of IWA:42 is a transformational point in allowing all organisations to use a standard common framework approach.
It is likely that IWA:42 would in future become similar in its use by organisations globally to that of ISO 9001 for Quality Management Systems. A further point to note is the development of IWA:42 was spearheaded by the British Standards Institute (BSi) The collaboration includes ISO, the Race to Zero campaign and the UNFCCC’s Global Innovation Hub and involved over 1,200 experts.
Such clarity on Net Zero has been needed for some time and these new guidelines help all organisations public, private, large and small in their journey. Sadly the media and press probably didn’t cover or promote the publication of these new guidelines and thus it is essential that organisations are aware of this important guidance resource.
CGLN Member and PhD Researcher at the University of East Anglia
Greenhouse Gas Removals (GGR), methods that remove greenhouse gases (mainly CO2) from the atmosphere, are implicit in reaching net-zero.
Yet, despite a long history of negotiations in accounting for the ‘natural’ removals in the land sector, ‘engineered’ removals, like direct air capture, have only recently entered into COP in force. This year’s COP27 might be disheartening to some, as despite efforts, integrating removals into one of the Paris Agreement’s key trading mechanisms, Article 6, was largely beaten back to the next COP.
Nevertheless, progress is not defined by negotiations alone. GGR has moved from a theoretical in climate models to a political reality, featuring in national climate plans. GGR legislation around the world is moving rapidly towards deployment and growing in ambition, engineered removal demonstration projects are gathering at pace, and net-zero guidance is tightening around a need for permanence.
The UK remains well-placed to lead these efforts, but all countries should step on the accelerator to ensure by COP28, their governance at the international level may become clearer.
CGLN Youth Advisory Councilmember for Climate Finance
There are some things negotiators at COP27 can walk away very proud of - although it is worth remembering that the loss and damage fund and progress on youth representation would have been unlikely to happen without the efforts of civil society and youth advocacy groups such as YOUNGO. However, let’s not kid ourselves. Implementation has not been delivered; we’re not even close. The loss and damage agreement is a nice media headline for the Presidency, but much of the narrative that we’re seeing from them is political opportunism.
When it comes to meaningful implementation, COP27 has been a massive failure. We’re still not dealing with the actual cause of the problem - dependence on fossil fuels, which make up three-quarters of emissions. The can has been kicked down the road again when it comes to ‘phasing out’ fossil fuels, or even ‘phasing down’ anything other than coal.
Moreover, the petrostate lobby has actually reversed much of the progress in Glasgow, with the introduction of ‘low emissions energy’ into the climate jargon vernacular of the UNFCCC - a precedent that could easily allow Parties to justify natural gas as a transition fuel, locking in their energy systems to fossil emissions and making it extremely difficult to achieve net-zero by 2050. It's unclear where we go from here. The current COP system is not working, and - while I’m generally opposed to alarmist repertoire - we’re seriously running out of time to ‘try again next year.’
Dr Richard Carmichael, CPsychol, FRSA
CGLN Fellow and Co-leader of the Behaviour Change in Energy and Environment Policy ('BEEP') Research Network
The ambition gap and the delivery gap both need to be closed and the pace of action on climate accelerated. Much better transparency in GHG emissions is vital.
Transparency about the co-benefits being delivered alongside decarbonisation is also critically important. Co-benefits - such as cleaner air, green job creation, and biodiversity - are delivered much quicker than climate change mitigation and can be a stronger motivator to act than cutting carbon.
Better measurement and communication of the range of co-benefits actually being realised year-on-year could improve policy for a Just Transition and could also help to build commitment to climate action among politicians, the public and other stakeholders.
The Win-Window project, funded by UKERC, and delivered by LSHTM, Imperial College London and the University of Aberdeen, is working on gathering the data for such a Co-benefits Tracker.
The project was featured in a COP27 UK Pavilion event on the importance of co-benefits, with an introduction from Sir Patrick Vallance (Thurs 10th, 3-4pm CEST, 1-2pm UK) - watch here
CGLN Member and Economics Student at Harvard
COP was one of the most unifying moments (at least in my year) for engaging a diverse group of stakeholders, even despite some of its flaws. I was fortunate enough to attend the first week of COP27 through the SustainUS delegation and meet youth, elders, activists, policymakers, business leaders, and more from all over the world.
More than just listening to their perspective or work, I discussed, learned, and grew in my ways of thinking about what change looks like and what avenues are open to us to enact that progress. As someone who is currently not in school, I think that this experience provided me with a rare opportunity for intellectual engagement and introspection of theory but also immediate action and directly applicable praxis. Most, if not all, of the people I met were earnestly working toward the same goal of addressing climate change, in various forms. Some people were specialists on climate finance, drawing on public accounts to attract private investors into funds. Others were grassroots organizers, who diligently worked on the ground in their communities. These people would never otherwise choose to interact with each other. In their separate spaces, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear them criticizing each other. In my head, these groups represented the more macro-level divides in the climate advocacy space between the multilateral and the local, the institution and the people. At COP, in the frenzy of the blue zone and beyond, it was suddenly possible for these people to cross-industry and ideology. I think that was the most valuable experience of the entire week. Going into COP, I will admit that I personally only had experience in working with YOUNGO and affiliated groups, primarily focused on climate education, finance, and youth engagement at the UN. I was aware that there were more direct or local efforts but had never felt the need to participate in them, in part because I felt comfortable and supported in the community that I worked with and was excited to reconnect with them. I think that these feelings are normal and even beneficial - it is crucial that the network you work with is a welcoming and inclusive environment.
However, the exposure to other stakeholders and politics means that I now feel like I have ways to access other ways of mobilizing action, whether that be direct or through party bilaterals. Even if I do not end up working on the same issues as others or feel that this is the best way for me to personally make change, having a better understanding of the complementary efforts around the world means that we can build better coalitions and informal networks to connect people to what draws them in. I hope to see this level of openness to engaging with other methods outside of COP. I’ll end this by noting how many movements are fractured by ideology or by opportunity constraints. The youth climate advocacy movement is no different. From what I have experienced, it seems that the funders and media are focused on a few individual faces (sometimes considered “influencers”) rather than the work of communities.
This is not to say that I believe certain routes of action are inherently more productive or effective than others. In fact, I think that there is a certain level of value to all of the efforts that people invest in the climate crisis. But I do believe that having a more diverse array of networks supported would be beneficial in uplifting all of the valuable work that is being done.