Last year's UN climate summit raised high hopes but struggled to deliver. Our experts break down the key issues at November's COP27 with much unfinished business on the table
What is COP?
The annual United Nations Conference of the Parties, or COP, is the biggest climate change event in the international calendar, gathering world leaders under one roof to discuss the implementation of tangible solutions to tackle global warming.
Described as the most significant climate event since the 2015 Paris Agreement, the last COP took place in November 2021 in Glasgow. COP26 was held with a renewed sense of urgency as several studies ahead of the event indicated that, unless serious attempts are made to reduce emissions, temperatures will keep rising and extreme weather conditions will escalate.
COP26, while not delivering on its high expectations, marked the first COP since Paris which achieved some progress on the global response to climate change. Specifically, the main outcomes achieved by the participating parties at COP26 were:
- to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees by enhancing the emission reduction plans of countries;
- a recognition for the need to get climate finance flowing – having missed their pledge to provide $100 billion annually in climate finance by 2020, developed countries were urged to significantly boost funding;
- strengthening action on adaptation – with much of the climate response to date focusing on climate mitigation, such as cutting emissions, it has been recognised that considerably more must be done to adapt nations to rising temperatures; and
- the finalisation of the Paris Agreement Rulebook – the operational framework for the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
At COP26, countries also entered into various commitments outside of the traditional COP process. This allowed participating states to sign up to pledges without needing unanimity (which is required under the COP process) which arguably avoided the watering down of commitments to the lowest common denominator. These included, the Methane Pledge and the Deforestation Pledge – for more on these commitments and COP26 progress see our COP26 Outcomes briefing.
Progress since COP26
Although many existing initiatives are being rolled out (such as the EU's legislative proposal to formalise its commitment under the Methane Pledge), indicating that some COP26 pledges are materialising, the world remains far off track to limit climate change to the agreed levels. The leading global scientific authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has stated that in all scenarios in line with these goals, global emissions must fall between 2020 and 2025, while emissions are still rising. To have a chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, global emissions must halve by 2030 and reach ‘net-zero’ by 2050.
cop27 – from pledge to implementation
The countdown has started to this year's UN climate change conference, COP27, which will take place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt from 7 to 18 November. There is a core emphasis from participating parties that COP27 will be about the practical execution of the many pledges and agreements made in Glasgow. With the headline, Together for implementation, COP27 is expected to build on COP26 to deliver action on an array of issues critical to tackling the climate emergency. Key areas include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to the inevitable impacts of climate change and delivering on commitments to finance climate action in developing countries.
The Egyptian government announced that the COP27 programme will cover different themes. Each day will address a specific theme:
Held in Egypt, COP27 is also touted as an African COP in reference to its location as well as expectations that African countries’ exposure to some of the most severe impacts of climate change will be front and centre. With six of the previous 10 COPs having taken place in Europe, the hosting of this year’s conference in north Africa is an opportunity for increased presence from often under-represented regions badly impacted by global warming.
- Reflecting the African setting of COP27, there will be a robust push for finance to fill the funding gap for mitigation and adaptation projects in the Global South.
- Loss and damage – the 'polluter pays' framework under the Paris Agreement to establish liability and compensation between nations for the impact of climate change – will be a key focus having made little progress at COP26. With severe floods in Nigeria and more than one-third of Pakistan being submerged in floodwater, displacing 33 million people, the urgency of addressing climate-induced loss and damage is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. Other climate-related disasters this year have included relentless sandstorms in the Gulf and unprecedented heatwaves across Europe and China.
- Linked to the increasing prevalence of physical climate change, the Egyptian presidency is expected to place heavy emphasis on adaptation, ie, food and water security, as well as climate mitigation measures, such as the energy transition. Food and water security is especially relevant to the Middle East and North Africa region, which is warming at twice the global average and is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events. With the war in Ukraine still disrupting regional food supply chains, and droughts and floods in Africa this year devastating local agricultural yields, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the consequences of food insecurity are a global problem.
A clear conclusion of COP26 was that tackling climate change cannot be achieved by governments alone. The private sector will have to play a vital role in helping countries across the world meet their nationally determined contributions – the state action plans to achieve Paris Agreement commitments. One of the key achievements from COP26 was prominent representation from the business community and related private sector pledges. November’s COP27 meeting comes amid unprecedented momentum and participation from businesses, providing a key moment to enhance the public-private collaboration necessary to address climate change.