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  • Writer's picturejoheneker

Good COP, Bad COP

Updated: Nov 7, 2022



I’ve never attended a COP, so I can’t say I’m entirely clear on what happens but it does feel like a lot of meetings, chat, aspirations and a bit of panic as the conference draws to a close and commitments haven’t quite been agreed.


I’d love to know how much time is spent assessing progress against the targets of the previous conference before launching into what we need to achieve by the next one. Hopefully, this is done in advance of the meeting, so that the time together can be spent holding people/nations/governments/companies to account.


Last year, I wrote down my reflections (as an outsider!) on the success of COP26 in Glasgow a week after it had finished. I thought it might be a good idea to revisit that piece and share my aspirations for COP27 which starts today in Egypt, so here goes…..


Overall, I had a positive view of COP26, mainly because of the impact it had had on the general population of the UK: it was all over the news for the duration of the conference. Other than that, I was a bit skeptical of the value such an expensive, travel-intensive conference brings. There were some stand-out moments, notably from David Attenborough (of course) and Bahamas PM Mia Mottley’s ‘try harder’ speech.


One positive outcome for me was the formation of ISSB, the International Sustainability Standards Board. They have been working really hard to create a single set of standards for everyone to measure their sustainability efforts against, rather than the current well-intentioned ‘alphabet soup’ of acronyms for the glut of standards that are out there. The Board is making good progress, but they haven’t published the standards yet - that would be unreasonably quick, to be fair – and it’s another year gone without a standard set of sustainability metrics. Perhaps they could release an initial 1 critical metric so that we can ALL get our work done towards that (if I’ve missed this and it’s happened, let me know!).


Another tangible positive is really a UK-based observation. Because COP took place in Glasgow, the spotlight was put on sustainability here in a way I’d never seen before, which was brilliant. I wasn’t sure if it would be a flash in the pan, left on the sidelines a few weeks after COP finished, but actually, I think there’s more media focus on climate change than ever before. It’s really become part of the fabric of the news, even if it’s more often than not quite negative.



One year ago, little did we know that the world would have changed so profoundly. We were filled with hope as the pandemic was starting to become more manageable and we could see ways to get back to (a new) normal, where we could again focus on our planet and society as a whole, but a lot has changed in a year: there’s war in Ukraine, a lot of political instability and a global cost of living crisis.


There has been much more evidence of climate change globally, but so far in the UK we’re coming off relatively unscathed, so it’s still not ‘our crisis’ yet. When humans are faced with a crisis, we really only look at the immediate, and all other problems are pushed aside while we try our best to survive the urgent threats. This means for those of us who don't feel like we've been touched by climate change directly, it becomes a longer-term issue that can be dealt with another day, so it’s understandable why some people don’t see it as a priority.


However, let’s not forget that war and cost of living are both sustainability issues (especially if you use the UN Sustainable Development Goals to guide your definition of what sustainability is), so for me, this COP meeting is more important than ever.



Therefore, this year, I really want to see some proper commitment and action in the following areas:


Funding to poorer nations

Times are tough for everyone so it’s difficult to imagine an increase in funding to other nations to get climate ready, but it’s absolutely imperative to help people adapt and stay in their home countries if they want to, not least because us richer nations have created the vast majority of this issue in the first place, with our addiction to fossil fuels. More and more migration is being caused by climate change, so this funding is not something we should defer.


1.5° temperature rise action

We are way off 1.5°. Scientists believe that with countries’ current promises, Earth’s temperature will climb to between 2.1 and 2.9 degrees Celsius by 2100, so we need stronger actions, even stronger penalties if we don’t do what we say we will do, and clarity on where those penalties will go – perhaps a way to plug the funding gap I mention above?


Emissions reporting

Something that needs clarifying quickly is the definition of carbon emissions, especially around Scope 3, which is really difficult to pin down. (If you’re not sure what ‘Scope 3’ means, scroll to the bottom.) It’s such a vast and complex category, and many people are working on it as best they can, but because it is a bit of a catch-all, no one seems to be measuring it the same way. It’s also not mandatory to report against because of this, and there are instances of companies ignoring Scope 3 altogether, and yet making grand claims about their carbon footprint.


Accounting

I’d love to see a real international agreement around accounting standards, so that sustainability becomes a core part of all business decisions and financial reporting. The work the ISSB continues to do will help that.


Education

From an educational perspective, I would urge countries to consider sustainability as a mandatory part of their school curriculums, so that our students and future workers & leaders have a strong understanding of the subject from a practical perspective, ready to make the changes necessary to protect our planet and communities.


I’d also like to see a wider educational programme so that all of us understand the subject better, so we can do a better job of making changes as individuals and business owners, minimise misunderstandings due to unclear language and call out unsustainable behaviour in a more constructive and informed way, whether that be greenwashing, discrimination of any kind or unsustainable use of the planet’s resources.


Evidence and success

This could well be my most important plea: more evidence and hear more stories of what people and businesses are contributing to this mass global effort, not just so we have proof that we are turning this ship around, but also to celebrate positive success stories and progress. How can we be motivated to continue if we don't see the positive impact of our efforts?


In summary, there's a lot to work on in Egypt over the next couple of weeks, and while the inner workings and outputs of a COP remain a bit of a mystery to me, I am hopeful that strong progress will be made that we can track, see and feel.


As Desmond Tutu once said: Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.


Do you run your own business and want to be part of the solution? Not sure where to start, or what the right angle is for you? We can help you to identify the right focus for your business and we can also build and deliver a sustainability action plan for you. Please get in touch for a no-obligation chat if you’d like to know more.





Scope 3: essentially emissions are divided into 3 categories, the direct ones you make yourself, for example if you burn coal – scope 1, the ones you use at your work indirectly, the electricity you buy that comes from fossil fuels (indirect because a third party is doing the burning) – scope 2, and scope 3, which is any other emission it's indirectly responsible for, up and down its value chain, so what suppliers use, hotel nights and so on.

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