CGLN Fellow and Executive Director of the Coalition for Reimaged Mobility
COP27 may have failed to deliver on some ambitious expectations, but we made progress on credible, measurable climate action: putting quality data first.
A key focus for me at COP27 was ocean shipping decarbonization.
I moderated a discussion among key stakeholders in shipping, who represented ocean carriers, ports, and research and industry organizations.
While much of the discussion centered on the collaboration and investment needed to commercialize alternative marine fuels, we kicked off the conversation with the power that data and digitalization holds to streamline shipping and lead to dramatically lower fuel consumption with relatively low investment.
I kicked things off by talking about the Coalition for Reimagined Mobility’s research that showed the freight sector could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 22 percent through standardized data exchange alone – using currently available technology that could be deployed at low cost, even paying for itself through increased operational efficiencies.
While the panellists noted their organizations were already leveraging data to make their operations more efficient, we agreed that the missing piece is the system-wide approach, which requires leadership, political will, and a centralized or regulated framework for data exchange.
And that missing piece, if done right, could transform the shipping industry for the better—making it more sustainable, resilient, and cost-efficient.
Over the course of my days in Sharm el-Sheikh, I saw this theme play out more broadly. While many are rightfully dismayed that not enough progress was made to achieve peak emissions by 2025 or curb the use of fossil fuels, I was encouraged by the focus on data and disclosure to measure progress towards climate goals, support decision-making, and eliminate greenwashing.
At the start of COP27, the United Nations High-Level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities (Expert Group) clarified what “net-zero” and “net-zero aligned” means.
Included in the group’s guidance is that “net-zero pledges should contain interim targets measuring progress along a 1.5°C pathway five years at a time, reaching net-zero by 2050 or sooner; targets should account for companies’ complete Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.”
In short, organizations need to be more transparent about how they are going to do what they say they’re going to do. The Expert Group will launch the Net-Zero Data Public Utility in 2023 – the repository would make standardized emissions data publicly available to hold parties accountable to their ESG and climate pledges.
This climate data repository, along with increased standardization of climate disclosures via CDP’s (formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project) COP27 announcement that it will align with the International Sustainability Standards Board, will improve overall accountability and help the investment community better determine the risks and impact of investments across their portfolios. Importantly, a key goal is to use high-quality, timely data to make investment less risky in emerging economies. Standardized data reporting and disclosure, coupled with reform of publicly funded finance institutions like the World Bank, would make climate investments less risky, and improve capital flows to where it’s needed most.
Aside from the fact that good data is the bedrock of climate action and investment, this macro-level data focus converges with data sharing across the freight value chain and will allow corporations and governments to really act on Scope 3 and supply chain emissions, as the UN Expert Group advised.
The greater availability of standardized climate data can empower stakeholders to demand alignment on net-zero. In the case of supply chain emissions, pressure from cargo owners, retailers, consumers, and others to address their Scope 3, or indirect, emissions will accelerate the adoption of lower-carbon transportation technologies, fuels, and optimization practices like data exchange.
We must work in parallel on immediate and longer-term decarbonization strategies. Harnessing data for enhanced efficiency, reduced energy consumption, and higher-fidelity measurement, reporting, and disclosure is an immediately available action.
Let’s do it now to advance our broader climate efforts and investment over the coming year when we can build on our successes in COP28.