COP27 - Looking back and what this means for 2023

Matt North & Andrew Railton Marketing Director & Junior Consultant

COP 22

13th January 2023

COP27 was billed as the ‘implementation COP’ and so there were fewer major commitments or announcements than at COP26 in Glasgow.

But was there too much noise and not enough action? Are we, as described by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres “… on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”?

1.5°C is alive... but barely

The Global Carbon Budget 2022 revealed that the remaining carbon budget to keep global warming below 1.5°C will be gone by 2030, unless emissions fall sharply. It finds that there is a 50% chance that global average temperature rise will exceed 1.5°C within 9 years and that the remaining carbon budget for 2°C warming will be gone in ~30 years, if current emissions levels persist. Many were saying that 1.5°C is out of reach and that we need to be realistic. For them, the focus needs to shift to ‘every degree matters’ and it’s now a case of keeping as far below 2°C as possible. The fact it took a working group, led in part by Nestlé, to salvage the 1.5°C threshold and challenge the terminology from ‘target’ to ‘limit’ speaks volumes. The degree to which business self-interest is aligning with the global agenda and the pivotal role they play in shaping, not just delivering, it is hugely encouraging – even if the corporate voice isn’t well represented at COP. We need to see more of this commitment to and determination for change. We must push forward and not start to think, ‘oh well we tried’, is in any way acceptable. 

“ Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish. It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact - or a Collective Suicide Pact ” 

Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary General

The urgent need for action over rhetoric has never been more acute. As Rebecca Solnit wrote in her powerful article for the New Statesman; “Not acting is a luxury those in immediate danger do not have and despair is something they cannot afford. Those facing flood and fire cannot afford to lose hope. Neither should we.” This reframing of what we know to be an urgent and very real problem gives hope, making individual and corporate action feel important and possible.

* N.B. The term “remaining carbon budget” refers to the amount of CO2 that can still be released in the future while keeping warming below global limits of 1.5°C or 2°C.

But 1.5°C isn't quite the utopia we think it is

According to the IPCC, “50% of the world’s population will be at severe risk of climate change impacts by 2030, even with 1.5°C of warming”. It’s shocking statistics like this that cement the importance of the 1.5°C threshold. And with 1.5° looking like an increasingly optimistic target, it’s no wonder that investment into adaptation, mitigation and resilience, particularly in the world’s poorest, most disproportionally effected nations, was also high on the agenda. Fundamentally we need to recognise that the impacts of climate change being felt now are just the tip of our melting iceberg. Even at 1.5°C the effects will be far-reaching so if we fail to bring this under control and we start to creep above this, the effect will be harder and harsher. We must find ways to evolve and cope as well as mitigate. It’s a problem so huge and so complex that we have no choice but to tackle it from both sides.

It's time for those causing the damage to take responsibility

There is a real risk that whole countries could disappear due to the results of climate change.

“We have 86 months. That difference of 2°C and 1.5°C for us, that could be the death of our nation. And who is going to take responsibility for that?” 

Climate Minister of The Maldives

Is a harsher wakeup call than this really needed? Time – for brave ambition, for mindset change, for skillset change, for action, for true transformation – is running out and we have moral responsibility, not as corporations or consumers, but as citizens, to change. The injustice is hard to stomach and only just being acknowledged; that the countries who are suffering the greatest impacts from climate change are often not those who have contributed significantly to the emissions that are causing it. Record level flooding in Pakistan in recent months has killed over 1,700 people, over 2 million homes have been destroyed and millions of children are now out of school. The Pakistani government places the total value of the damages at ~$30bn, with research suggesting Pakistan contributes less than 1% to global emissions yet is one of the worst countries hit.

Loss and Damages took centre stage with a breakthrough agreement to provide Loss and Damage funding for vulnerable nations hit by climate disasters. Governments agreed to establish a ‘transitional committee’ to make recommendations on how to operationalise the new fund and its funding arrangements at COP28 next year. This fund will work closely with other funding mechanisms, particularly the Global Shield Financing Facility (GSFF)**. It will also support the Global Shield Against Climate Risks, an initiative launched by the G7 and V20 to better protect poor and vulnerable people from climate-related disasters by pre-arranging more financing before disasters. But isn’t this just the language of loans? Essentially more borrowing laid on already financially-stretched countries to pay for things they did not cause? Despite this being a positive step in acknowledgment it hardly seems a fair resolution, especially if we consider the brutally unfair position these countries are in.

Responsible for less that 4% of global emissions, Africa is suffering devastating consequences, like flooding in Nigeria and drought in Cape Horn which has left 22 million people at risk of starvation. Many are seeing the language of ‘loss and damage’ as not taking full account of climate debt and climate justice. The concept of climate justice evolved within civil society movements in the global south through an understanding that the developed world owes a climate debt to developing countries. Developed countries are facing increasing pressure to provide greater levels of climate finance, after they failed to hit the $100bn target originally set for 2020. It will be interesting to see how this plays out and the potential risk and opportunities to business if governments start to look towards those businesses and industries not doing enough.

** NB. The World Bank announced the GSFF as a way to assist developing countries in accessing more financing for recovery from natural disasters and climate related shocks.

Stepping up the war against greenwashing

Many corporates have jumped on the net-zero bandwagon, setting targets with long time frames and, in many cases, little idea of the transformation needed to reach these targets. Is this just a more credible-sounding version of greenwashing? The High-Level Expert Group launched net-zero recommendations to provide corporates and investors with time-based frameworks to deliver net-zero based on short, medium and long-term targets. The report aims to crackdown on greenwashing and vague net-zero pledges.

It states:

• Non-state actors should no longer claim to be net-zero if they continue to build or invest in new fossil fuel supply, support deforestation and other environmentally destructive activities.

• Firms should not buy cheap carbon credits instead of cutting emissions but can use “high-quality” carbon credits only to balance out remaining emissions once short and medium-term science-based targets have been met.

• Firms should stop lobbying or associating with groups that attempt to undermine government climate policies, namely through trade associations.

This would be a significant step forward in eliminating empty promises and corporates gaming the system by buying their way to net-zero through low-quality carbon credits rather than implementing the systemic changes needed to significantly reduce emissions. However, it remains to be seen how successfully these recommendations will be implemented.

Advertised emissions

Although not a main focus at COP27, it’s worth noting the conversations around Advertised Emissions, the basic premise being that the more adverts we see, the more stuff we buy, the more stuff gets made and more emissions are generated. Everything has an associated carbon footprint.

A report by Purpose Disruptors and econometrics agency Magic Numbers calculates in 2022, the ad industry will be responsible for 208 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and that advertising is adding an extra 28% to the annual carbon footprint of every single person in the UK. Although the conversations in this area are in their infancy, it’s certainly indicative of a wider focus on indirect impact and, for the ad industry, will likely manifest in increased pressures on responsible advertising and communication.