The 27th edition of the climate summit took place in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt from 6 to 18 November. This is an event of great relevance in the context of multilateralism and international cooperation and is therefore an unmissable date for businesses. The Conference of the Parties determines best practices, objectives and the way forward to align organisations with sustainable development. For this reason, we have prepared a summary of COP27 for businesses.
What is COP27?
The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the annual summit of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It brings together representatives of the countries that have ratified the convention, with currently 197 nations constituting the Parties. These meetings are focused on finding solutions for transitioning towards an economy that prioritises sustainable growth and that puts our planet and society’s well-being over short term gains.
Decision-making at the COP is done through consensus among all Parties and agreements can be binding. According to Article 7.2 of the UNFCCC the: “COP […] shall make, within its mandate, the decisions necessary to promote the effective implementation of the Convention”, and it shall to this end “make recommendations on any matters necessary for the implementation of the Convention” (Art.7.2(g)).
This year, COP27 was focused on three core objectives:
- Financing climate justice through an adaptation fund.
- Phasing out all fossil fuels
- Continuing efforts to limit global temperatures to 1.5°C.
The first objective was achieved through the establishment of a “loss and damage” fund for the countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change (severe floods, prolonged periods of drought, etc.). After COP27, high-income countries pledged to contribute more than $230 million to the Adaptation Fund. These pledges will help the most vulnerable communities through concrete adaptation solutions.
As for the second goal, quoting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ closing remarks: “Our planet is still in the emergency room. We need to drastically reduce emissions now – and this is an issue this COP did not address”. In doing so, the UN Secretary General made it clear that this year’s negotiations failed to reach an agreement that would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Given that GHG accumulation is only going to increase and that climate action targets are not being met, it is going to be difficult to limit global warming to the figure decided upon in the Paris Agreement. In fact, forecasts suggest that by the end of the century, global temperatures will rise by 2.5ºC by the end of the century, according to the synthesis report of the Nationally Determined Contributions.
With temperatures currently rising by 1.2 degrees, it is imperative to finance climate action. European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans – who also leads the work on the European Green Deal – noted the EU’s dissatisfaction with mitigation policies: “to tackle climate change all financial flows need to support the low-carbon transition. The EU came here to get strong language agreed and we are disappointed we didn’t achieve this.”
What does COP27 mean for businesses?
Policies agreed at COP27 will eventually become regulations that businesses will have to comply with. Moreover, the outcomes of the conference drive consumer behaviour and stakeholder expectations. Supporting investment in new climate plans so that each nation can create and follow a plan of action will need substantial private finance.
COP27 will influence any steps you take, wherever your business happens to be in its sustainability and climate plan. Below we share the three main themes of the climate summit that are relevant for companies and their ESG strategies.
Net Zero Commitments
After COP26, many companies and local governments pledged to implement net zero objectives and policies for the medium and long term. COP27 has put the spotlight back on the commitments that were made and on the path that various actors are taking to achieve them. The UN High Level Expert Group on Net Zero Commitments published a report during the summit, which serves as a guide to ensure credible and accountable zero emission commitments from industry, financial institutions, cities and regions. We have extracted the information that concerns companies from this report and divided it into three sections:
- Net-zero pledges must be in line with IPCC scenarios limiting warming to 1.5 degrees. That means global emissions must decline by at least 45 per cent by 2030 – and reach net zero by 2050. Pledges should have interim targets every five years starting in 2025. And these targets must cover all greenhouse gas emissions and all scopes of emissions. For businesses, it means all emissions — direct, indirect and those originating from supply chains. Abide by this standard and update your guidelines right away – and certainly no later than COP28.
- Secondly, on credibility, full and rapid decarbonization this decade is the ultimate test. Leaders from business, financial institutions and local authorities need to present transition plans with their net-zero pledges. These plans should be publicly available, with detailed, concrete actions to meet all targets. Management must be accountable for delivering on these pledges. This means publicly advocating for decisive climate action and disclosing all lobbying activity. Targets must be reached through real emissions cuts. Fossil fuels must be phased out and renewable energy scaled-up.
- Third, on accountability, full transparency is critical. The UNFCCC has a global and public platform — the Global Climate Action Portal – that is already being used to register pledges, publish transition plans, and track annual reporting on implementation. Government or private sector commitments to net-zero cannot be a mere public relations exercise.
This last section, especially the part of communicating about the sustainability policies that are being carried out, is another of the strong points that have been discussed at COP27. António Guterres has declared that “we must have zero tolerance for net zero greenwashing“, here we explain why companies should take this into account.
From greenwashing to greenhushing
When communicating initiatives that contribute to “improving” the planet, many companies make the mistake of not taking into account how their activity contributes to the climate crisis. This is the case for example with companies that claim to have invested in environmentally friendly initiatives, but fail to recognise how they contribute to climate change through their GHG emissions. This is a clear example of greenwashing. At COP27, it has been highlighted that the greenwashing phenomenon, i.e. the communication tactic of representing a product or service as more sustainable than it actually is (or misrepresenting its environmental benefits), is being replaced by greenhushing.
With the fear of reprisals and increased scrutiny of how companies communicate their ESG strategies, many organisations are choosing to remain silent about their sustainability strategies. This practice, which has emerged as a protection mechanism from potential reputational crises, is a real problem for accountability. Companies that choose not to make their net zero strategies and objectives public are avoiding an important conversation with their stakeholders. And lack of transparency can prove fatal. This is particularly a problem for SMEs, as many are not legally required to disclose non-financial information.
Launch of the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership
Sustainable forest management and conservation has taken a major step forward following COP27 with the establishment of a Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership. The aim of this alliance is to unite the action of governments, business and community leaders to halt the loss of these important biomes. Forests have a critical role to play in combating climate change, as well as addressing biodiversity loss.
The Partnership also aims to prevent land degradation by 2030. According to a study published in Nature journal on the current state of the terrestrial microbiomes, more than 90% of the Earth’s soil will be degraded by 2050. The loss of beneficial soil microorganisms has alarming implications for life and ecosystems, including negative consequences for growing crops and ensuring food security.
For all these reasons, 27 countries representing more than 60% of global GDP and covering 33% of the world’s forests have joined the new partnership and committed to lead by example. For their part, companies must ensure that the natural resources they use are managed sustainably and increase transparency in the supply chain.
Getting the post-COP27 ESG strategy right
COP27 has made it clear that we all have an essential role to play in the fight against climate change. Governments and businesses alike must move towards a just climate transition that leaves no one behind. It is a challenge that requires swift and determined action, because in the current climate crisis there is no room for half-measures. To get your company’s sustainability strategy right, it is necessary to start by measuring the corporate environmental footprint, the social impact of your policies and the mechanisms put in place to ensure proper corporate governance.
To do this, APlanet has two specialised tools for sustainability management. APlanet Neutrality is a platform that measures GHG emissions throughout the value chain. With the software, scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions can be calculated, following the GHG Protocol. On the other hand, APlanet Sustainability allows you to manage all the non-financial information of your company so that you can make your sustainability reports according to the most rigorous international standards. Do you want to take action? Contact us!
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