The talk in the room: a realistic perspective on COP27

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Photo credit: UNFCC

Global change is complicated. It’s not a soundbite or a process you can just demand works quicker.

COP27 hasn’t failed just because it hasn’t fixed the problem yet. 

The Outcomes of the Last 26 COPs have got us to a point where many countries, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain Sweden and the UK, now have falling CO2 emissions.

192 countries have agreed to take action to limit global warming to 2 degrees, and continue efforts to limit it to 1.5 ºC, in alignment with the legally binding Paris Agreement. 

Developed countries have agreed to finance developing countries via the Green Climate Fund, with $100 Bn a year to help them adapt to climate impacts.

We cannot ignore how hard it is to get 192 countries to agree to anything.

Let alone to put aside their often conflicting interests and often more domestically-focused priorities to focus on a singular, complex, global issue. 

Those competing and conflicting priorities aren’t just “who gets to fish where?” or “who earns more in trade?” For a lot of countries, they are “how do we keep growing our economy to get our population above the global poverty line of $2 a day, or create jobs and employment so that our people don’t starve?”

We can see it here in Europe today. It’s a hard call for Germany to justify shutting down coal power plants when it doesn’t have the means to ensure it won’t have blackouts this winter. 

Hard for them to prioritise the environment over deaths from cold and lack of electricity.  

That’s the dilemma heavily industrialised rich nations face at home. Whilst also figuring out how to protect people in the Global South, who are already experiencing the direct impact of our over-inflated carbon footprints.

We need to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It’s an undeniable fact. 

It’s also an undeniable fact that achieving this is complicated! 

And even when we manage it, there will have still be significant impact to people and planet.

Which is why COP is for more than just CO2 emissions.

It’s not just about emissions reduction – it’s about finance, risk and mitigation, and giving a voice to the Global South.  

It’s about taking the world on a journey to net zero and beyond that doesn’t result in the poor getting poorer. 

A journey that still allows those most in need of growth and better standards of living to escape poverty whilst also making sure we have a planet to live on.

Yes COP isn’t perfect, far from it actually, but the world isn’t perfect.

If we are having a sensible conversation and not scaremongering, isn’t it better to work with imperfect than to say it doesn’t work and has failed? 

Shouldn’t we support the democratic COP process and join together, to make change that works for everyone?

COP is the reason we have agreed targets, COP is the reason we are making progress and COP is the reason we will keep making progress. 

So many people write off COP as a week-long annual awareness day that achieves little. 

But you can’t have meaningful action without transparency and accountability. COP27 is the mechanism for that.

Holding governments to account must happen if we stand a chance. 

We know new pledges must happen if we are going to achieve the 1.5c target.

We know that the whole world must take part, or it won’t happen.

So, really, we all know it’s not just a week-long discussion. 

COP is fundamentally how we come together, like never before, to make real, structural change.

Turning against an international process doesn’t help anyone. 

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The most pro-active businesses and individuals are already taking action. And it’s easy to see why they often express frustration at the complicated COP process. 

But in 2022, when COP26 was hosted by the sixth largest economy in the world and a G8 power, all eyes turned to the climate conversation. The world was inspired with a new sense of urgency.

You could argue that if corporations haven’t voluntarily changed their ways after that, they’re never going to.

What we need now is real, binding international agreements. 

COP helps get government to regulate. And regulations mean change that can be enforced. 

COP pushes governments to make change. And government can force businesses that won’t change to drive the measures we need to achieve 1.5 degrees.

Dismissing the COP process because it’s too slow is akin to pushing the individual action narrative that fossil fuel companies have used PR firms to deliver for years. Even the concept of an individual carbon footprint was invented as a marketing ploy. 

It’s greenwashing.

Voluntary action should be celebrated and encouraged, but not without also advocating for global government support to drive behaviour change among those who won’t go willingly.

In a sensible conversation, we understand that complex issues aren’t just black and white. Good vs bad.

Yes, it may feel that governments have been too slow to “wake up” and take action.

Yes, it’s not yet entirely clear how we limit warming to 1.5 degrees (although COP26 took some big steps to tighten up the Paris Agreement and how we actually achieve it).

But we must remember that moving faster has a cost in lives and livelihoods of those most in need.

COP is designed to ensure that every voice is heard. That every life is taken into account, and that every solution found is fair.

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