COP27: Why it matters and 5 key areas for action

COP27 is the next meeting of the group of 198 countries that have signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It will be held in the Egyptian city of Sharm El-Sheikh on 6-18 November. The UN is urging the world’s industrialized nations to ‘lead by example’ by taking ‘bold and immediate actions’. Five key issues to watch are nature, food, water, industry decarbonization and climate adaptation.

“A third of Pakistan flooded. Europe’s hottest summer in 500 years. The Philippines hammered. The whole of Cuba in blackout. And … in the United States, Hurricane Ian has delivered a brutal reminder that no country and no economy is immune from the climate crisis.”

These are the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres. He was speaking to journalists in New York about the importance of the upcoming COP27 climate summit. It comes as the most recent scientific evidence shows that the planet’s warming is accelerating: It’s already looking almost certain that 2022 will rank among the 10 warmest years on record, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This year’s climate summit will be a key milestone for multistakeholder actions and partnerships across the key five issues of nature, food, water, industry decarbonization, and climate adaptation.

What are COP summits?
The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the group of nations that have signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was put together in 1992. It commits them to act together to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system”. Since then the parties, or nations, have met almost annually.

The most recent one, COP26, was held in the Scottish city of Glasgow in November 2021. It brought together 120 world leaders and representatives from almost 200 countries. It culminated in the Glasgow Climate Pact, which reaffirmed the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of “limiting the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C”.

Other commitments included phasing down coal-fired power generation – the first time this has been explicitly included in UN climate talk decisions. There were also agreements to reduce methane emissions, reverse deforestation and land degradation, and pledge more finance to help developing countries cope with climate change.

At the conclusion of the summit, Alok Sharma, UK President of COP26 said: “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5°C alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.”

COP27 goals
COP27 will be held in the Egyptian coastal city of Sharm El-Sheikh on 6-18 November. Every year, the different country from a different world region takes up the COP Presidency, to convene world leaders and define priorities. As an ‘All of Africa’ COP, the Egyptian COP27 Presidency has defined the summit’s four key goals as:

• Mitigation: All parties, especially those in a position to “lead by example”, are urged to take “bold and immediate actions” and to reduce emissions to limit global warming well below 2°C.

• Adaptation: Ensure that COP27 makes the “crucially needed progress” towards enhancing climate change resilience and assisting the world’s most vulnerable communities.

• Finance: Make significant progress on climate finance, including the delivery of the promised $100 billion per year to assist developing countries.

• Collaboration: As the UN negotiations are consensus-based, reaching agreement will require “inclusive and active participation from all stakeholders”.

“We trust the world will come together, yet again, to reaffirm its commitment to the global climate agenda despite the difficulties and uncertainties of our time,” says Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. “I am positive that all parties and stakeholders will be coming to Sharm El-Sheikh with a stronger will and a higher ambition on mitigation, adaptation and climate finance, demonstrating actual success stories on implementing commitments and fulfilling pledges.”

UN Climate Change Chief Simon Stiell has reinforced the message that COP27 is a moment of truth for the international community. “In the last three decades we’ve put off the tough choices we need to make. Yes, we’ve made some headway. But fighting an exponential emergency with incremental progress is like fighting a wildfire with a garden hose.

“We’ve been unwilling to bear the full cost. We’ve been unwilling to accept what ‘systemic transformation’ really means. We look to the next country, the next business, the next person to do what it takes. But that’s not what it takes. We all have to do our fair share. That’s what the Paris Agreement is really about.”

5 key areas to watch at COP27
There is no way to keep 1.5 alive without stopping and reversing deforestation, transforming our food and land use systems, and protecting ocean ecosystems. Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history. This is not only bad for animals and plans, but also erodes the very foundation of our economies, livelihoods, health, and food security worldwide.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCCC) estimates that the land use sector contributes to around a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, our natural ecosystems also has massive untapped potential as a carbon sink: to store atmospheric CO2 as carbon in trees and soil on land, and in mangroves, tidal marshes, and seagrasses in the ocean.

COP26 saw unprecedented multi-stakeholder partnerships taking shape with the aim of protecting and restoring nature. Facilitated by the Tropical Forest Alliance, 12 of the world’s largest agri-companies committed to an ambitious roadmap to halt commodity-related deforestation in line with a 1.5°C pathway. It’s hoped that examples of implementation will become apparent at COP27. The Nature Pavilion at COP27 will be an important hub for these multistakeholder partnerships.

The global food, land and ocean use systems represents over 12% of global GDP today and over 40% of all jobs. The food crisis, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, stretched supply chains, and energy prices, means that agri-commodity prices have skyrocketed. This is particularly affecting: as of 2021, over 820 million people are suffering from hunger.

Climate change and our global food system are linked through cause and effect: agri-food systems alone are responsible for up to a third of GHG emissions, and climate change will continue to have drastic impacts for on food productivity, with IPCC estimating that land productivity already decreased by 21% because of climate change.

Achieving climate-resilient food systems that can address the world’s growing needs requires collaboration across governments, businesses and smallholders. At COP27, there will be a specific focus on how we scale the solutions required to meet our growing food demand in a climate-resilient way, which means commercializing innovative technological solutions and promoting agroecological practices which are often more climate-resilient than industrial farming methods. The Food Systems Pavilion will be front and center for strengthening these multistakeholder partnerships.

Water-related events such as floods and droughts are becoming frequent and more acute due to climate change. The IPCC reports that 3 billion people could face physical water scarcity with 2C of global temperature rise, which will effect Africa and other climate-vulnerable regions acutely. In addition, water security is a key priority of the Egyptian COP presidency. It is therefore essential that COP27 will see strengthened collaboration between governments, businesses, innovators and other key actors.
Urgent water solutions are key to achieving a sustainable and resilient net-zero future. Following COP27, in March 2023, world leaders will convene for the UN 2023 Water Conference to discuss the interlinkages between water and development, climate, and health.

Industry decarbonization
How lofty commitments made in Glasgow are implemented in a just and equitable way in emerging economies will be a key focus of talks in Sharm el-Sheikh. With the world experiencing an unprecedented wave of urbanization across the global East and South, the materials required to achieve low-carbon, climate-resilient cities will be a key part of the solution to unlocking decarbonization.
Concrete, steel, aluminium, and chemicals—as well as the ships, planes, and trucks that move them—are currently responsible for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, and that is projected to grow. The key to transition these global sectors is to drive down the prices of clean methods and technologies, compared to the carbon intensive conventional techniques.

Climate adaptation
The disastrous impacts of climate change are becoming more frequent and acute. The most recent IPCC Report found that almost 3.3 billion people now live in highly vulnerable climate contexts, and it is estimated that 10 million people are now displaced from the harrowing floods in Pakistan last month. The most vulnerable communities, who are least responsible for climate change, and least well-resourced to respond to climate impacts, will continue to be on the front line.

Confronting these challenges requires a concerted global response, including increased public and blended finance, radial new multistakeholder partnerships, and a doubling down on innovative solutions to adapt to climate impacts. There is a clear business case for climate adaptation: a 2019 report by the Global Commission on Adaptation demonstrated that investing $1.8 trillion globally in climate adaptation measures such as early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, and nature-based solutions, from 2020 to 2030 could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits.

At COP27, we can expect to see climate adaptation at the centre of talks. In the negotiating rooms, developing countries and small-island states will continue to stress how many countries lack the resources to respond to climate impacts, and issue which many small-island nations have been re-iterating for decades. We will also see strengthened efforts to build partnerships between governments, businesses, investors, and cities and regions to deliver urgent action on climate adaptation. The centre of gravity for multistakeholder action on building resilience to the impact of climate change is the Resilience Hub.