Is COP27 Meeting Expectations?
World leaders have gathered in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the COP27 UN climate conference. Here’s a rundown of what’s happening—and what’s not.
We’ve seen this movie before—global leaders, business executives, sustainability professionals, influencers, and activists converging to discuss climate solutions. Prior COP meetings have left us deflated, with more questions than answers, with bold pledges that quickly turned flaccid.
Will the COP27 meetings be different?
Leading into the climate meetings, there was a simultaneous sense of hope and disillusionment. Questions abounded: Would the UN’s latest Environmental Programme Emissions Gap Report, which clearly outlines how every single national climate commitment has fallen short of the 1.5 degree warming goal, have an impact? Would the U.S.’ ambitious climate legislation make a difference? Would astronomically growing costs to rebuild communities after increasingly frequent and intense climate disasters expedite action? Would Putin’s war provide enough impetus for Europe to finally break free from fossil fuels?
Like with most COP meetings, answers remain fuzzy, but here are a few things that we do know:
- Brazil’s president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been the belle of the ball. Lula’s reception eclipsed that of every other leader at the COP27 meetings, with hundreds of people waited for his arrival at the pavilion of Brazilian Amazon states. Chanting onlookers broke out into fits of raucous applause when Lula announced his plans to stop the rampant deforestation of the Amazon.
- A record number (636, to be exact—100 more than last year) of fossil-fuel lobbyists showed up at the meetings determined to defend their turf. An understandable move, given that over 30 major media outlets from 20 countries released an editorial calling on world leaders to place a hefty tax on fossil fuel companies to support climate-vulnerable nations. “This is no time for apathy or complacency; the urgency of the moment is upon us,” authors insisted.
- U.S. climate envoy John Kerry unveiled a controversial carbon offset plan, consisting of a carbon trading market, the Energy Transition Accelerator, that would encourage companies to purchase carbon credits. The funding from the carbon credits would be invested in clean energy projects in lower-income nations. Kerry, who announced the plan in conjunction with the Rockefeller Foundation and Bezos Earth Fund, avows that the market could be operational within one year. Critics contend that companies could use the carbon offsets to greenwash their activities and turn their focus away from emissions reduction initiatives.
- The United Kingdom announced a plan to spend billions of pounds on energy-efficiency projects, including insulation and boiler upgrades, to cut national energy demand by 13% by 2030. Mexico pledged to cut emissions by 35% by 2030. Indonesia will receive $15 billion for climate reparations. South Africa will receive $1 billion to close coal plants and has its sights set on a $250 billion investment in clean hydrogen infrastructure.
- The Alliance of Small Island States, representing the countries most vulnerable to rising sea levels and catastrophic tropical storms, is taking a hard line on establishing a loss and damage fund, insisting that developed countries that emit the largest amounts of carbon must pay their fair share to protect nations on the front line of climate change.
- The Russian delegation, including 33 members with ties to the fossil fuel industry (many of whom are sanctioned), has been met with a cold shoulder. Russia is the fourth highest-emitting country in the world and is warming at twice the global average. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has thrown international energy markets into a tailspin and has forced some European countries to revert back to coal and other dirty energy sources to replace Russian oil and natural gas.
- Once seen as the villains of climate meetings, counties like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (which is hosting next year’s climate summit) are taking center stage as European countries lean on them to meet their energy needs. Both countries have committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2060 and 2050 respectively and are investing billions of dollars in renewable energy. But don’t get too excited—Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, is pushing for increased oil production while reducing emissions. Possible? I, for one, am skeptical.
- Talk of “phasing down” fossil fuels is just that—disappointingly, it hasn’t evolved to “phasing out.” Nonetheless, the phase-down dialogue has expanded beyond just coal to include oil and gas as well. Not surprisingly, fossil fuel companies are already planning their resistance.
- Young activists have shown up in droves to assert their disapproval of tepid climate action, summed up perfectly by Vanessa Nakate, a 26-year-old climate activist from Uganda: “I can say we find ourselves in a system that is completely greenwashing, but then we have to try and change that system and make it better. When you come from a community that is on the frontlines of the climate crisis, you have no other choice but to come and try and change the system. You have no other choice but to come and talk about what's happening in your community. We have to be here, we have to try and make things better for our communities and for our future.” Thank heaven for the passion and commitment of these younger generations—in the face of existential crisis, I have no doubt that they’re going to implement the change that is needed to save the world.
With all of the progress and setbacks, it seems that COP27 delegates are generally feeling optimistic. Our good friend Scott Tew, VP Sustainability at Trane Technologies, reports from Egypt that he has been pleased with COP27 so far. “The meetings have been focused on action and implementation,” Tew asserts. “I think for many businesses, this is good news as we have the technologies and proven solutions to further decarbonize buildings and industry, which, along with finance, have been the main focus during this year’s COP proceedings.”
Tew also says that the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act is a bright spot among attendees. “People perceive it as a substantial step towards decarbonization.” He has also been impressed by the First Movers Coalition, a group of companies committed to purchasing low-carbon commodities like steel.
The verdict is still out about the success or failure of the COP27 meetings. There is certainly a substantial amount of work to be done if we are to achieve meaningful change and tangible outcomes, and, unfortunately, time is not on our side.