COP27: a pivotal moment in the fight against climate change?
It is 30 years since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted in 1992, and world governments have met almost annually since to work on priorities for a global response. In November, the 27th Conference of Parties, commonly known as COP27, in Egypt looks set to be one of the most challenging yet. We take a closer look at what to expect from this conference - and what the world needs from it.
Since the Paris Agreement, there has been increasing awareness and momentum around the importance of limiting global warming to no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. It is clear that we are reaching a tipping point in whether reaching this goal will be possible. Together with the volatile geopolitical backdrop that has dominated world dynamics since early 2022, Egypt’s climate summit has its work cut out.
Senja Kuokkanen, Climate & Circular Economy Team Sustainability Manager for Neste, the leading producer of renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel, is clear about the pivotal role of COP27 to build on the momentum and ambitious pledges made at last year’s COP26 in Glasgow.
She says: “COP27 may be a ‘make it or break it’ opportunity to turn ambitions into actions, and keep the 1.5°C goal at reach.”
What can we expect from COP27?
Turning pledges to implementation plans is a high priority for COP27, but there will also be a strong emphasis on finance and adaptation – a change from the previous focus on mitigation (i.e. reducing emissions to limit climate change). It is also the first time in six years that this summit has been hosted in Africa, so we can expect to see the concerns and needs of the developing world center stage.
Kuokkanen says: “For the world to succeed in tackling climate change, we need everyone on board. With that in mind, at COP27 it is important that we focus on engaging developing countries. For example, we need to show commitment to deliver on climate finance pledges.”
As part of the focus on finance and adaptation a key theme set to be on the formal agenda at COP27 is “loss and damage” (compensation for economic losses due to climate catastrophes) - something that has been rejected at previous summits. Indeed, UN Secretary General António Guterres has urged governments to address loss and damage "with the seriousness it deserves". Denmark last month became the first country to offer loss and damage compensation, with a package worth $13 million to be targeted at the Sahel region in northwest Africa and other climate-vulnerable areas.
The overall agenda for COP27 will be broad. Each day will have a different theme – from biodiversity to water, age to gender. Decarbonization will be the specific theme of the day on 11 November. Outside the formal intergovernmental negotiations, the Global Climate Action group of CEOs, mayors and other stakeholders will discuss transport on 16 November.
Building on the decarbonization momentum
Current estimates, based on Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) pledged by many countries all over the world to combat climate change, forecast that the world could still warm by 2°C by 2100 - exceeding the 1.5°C goal set out in the Paris Agreement. Under a 2°C scenario, 37% of the global population could regularly be exposed to extreme heat waves compared to 14% under 1.5°C, and the world could pass tipping points such as melting ice sheets which could trigger runaway climate change.
Kuokkanen says: “While it sounds like a small difference between 1.5°C and 2°C, it is in fact a significant tipping point. This is why at COP27 we need to see not only the momentum on decarbonization maintained but in fact increased even further. In addition, we also need decisive action from countries to shift from pledges to concrete action plans, and to even more ambitious NDCs.”
The global average temperature was 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels in 2021 and the IPCC estimates that to stay within 1.5°C, greenhouse gas emissions must fall by 45% by 2030 compared with 2010 levels, and reach net zero by mid-century. Except for a short blip during pandemic lockdowns, carbon emissions have however been steadily rising since the Paris agreement was signed in 2015. The latest IPCC assessment warns the window for change is “brief and rapidly closing”.
Kuokkanen points out that current acute economic and geopolitical issues are likely to make meeting this window for change even more difficult. Looking back to the previous climate summit she says: “The takeaway from COP26 was very strong business interest and many new pledges. Glasgow really raised ambition and built momentum. I hope COP27 can get the attention it needs and we can build on that.”
Both grassroot and high-level action against climate change is needed
“Under the current circumstances, it may be difficult to be optimistic about the outcome of COP27,” Kuokkanen concedes but adds: “But we don’t have any other choice and cannot throw in the towel.”
The extreme weather events of 2022 have made the impacts of the climate crisis real and palpable - forcing a shift from looking at climate change as something in the future to something where solutions are needed today. "It is impossible not to see it and that is a strong call for action. I hope it can be an opportunity and a driver to get governments, capital and civil society to act together towards a common goal,” Kuokkanen says.
Kuokkanen is also clear about the importance of individual and corporate efforts to make a difference: whether that is through reducing the amount of energy used in heating homes and offices, choosing renewable fuels and electric vehicles to get from one place to another, or making responsible consumption or dietary choices. We all have a role to play and responsibility in making a difference in the fight against climate change.
“We need all the solutions available to tackle climate change today - while innovating and scaling up the future technologies to get us to Net Zero. Let’s keep pushing our governments to set climate targets high on the agenda and then let’s ensure we all do our part to deliver on those goals,” Kuokkanen concludes.