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.’