COP27 Preview: Five questions that will shape the climate summit

Michael Hartt, Senior Partner and Head of International Affairs

One year after the notable progress on climate action at COP26 in Glasgow, government figures, civil society organisations, scientific experts and business leaders are now preparing to visit Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, for COP27. But even with clear evidence the climate crisis is worsening, this year’s summit will open with difficult questions for attendees about whether the pace and depth of action is enough.

The Egyptian government has identified goals in four primary areas: mitigation, adaptation, finance, and collaboration. It plans to focus the summit on implementation, rather than negotiations or new agreements, and will push for harmonised global efforts that both slow climate change and seek to implement better response measures. Will the Egyptian COP27 Presidency and the UNFCCC achieve their aims? It’s a big ask.

As we head into COP27, here are five issues we’re watching that will shape the summit:

  1. Will an ‘implementation COP’ have the urgency and agency to achieve progress?

    With increasingly frequent stories of climate warning signs – from devastating storms and floods to continued food insecurity, and severe heat waves – the tone heading into COP27 should be all about urgency. Yet talk of an ‘implementation COP’ indicates a lack of ambition to maintain the momentum from Glasgow and to move even faster, with Egypt’s own climate record prompting questions from some stakeholders about what the host country can achieve. It will be up to delegates to grab the microphone and shift the tone of discussions at COP27.

    The first few days of COP27 will be particularly telling. While the detail and nuance covered in week two are essential to the final result, the sense of importance and enthusiasm that we see from world leaders will indicate whether progress is coming or has stalled. That will dictate whether attendees feel empowered to go further, faster.

  2. How will complex geopolitics shape COP27?

The final moments of COP26 were defined by intense discussions involving the United States, UK, EU, India and China, amongst others. The compromise for a ‘phase down’ of unabated coal power was significant, even if unsatisfying for some.

Following Russia’s war in Ukraine and continued tension between China and the United States, the world is decidedly messier now. But COP27 will arguably be a lower profile stage, or at least a less politicised one, than the recent UN General Assembly. The impact of geopolitics on COP27 discussions remains unclear.

Deep progress on implementation will be impossible without collaboration by the United States, UK, EU, India and China, along with many others. The early interactions between their leaders and delegations will give an indication of whether tensions around the difficult challenges facing the world – rightly a significant concern for so many people – can be set aside for the sake of climate commitments. We will be watching closely to see if COP27 can be a rare moment of solidarity, or at least détente.

  1. How will businesses drive further action on climate?

Putting Health at the Heart of Climate Action ImageCOP26 saw an unprecedented corporate presence, becoming a must-go event for CEOs and C-suite executives and an opportunity for brands to showcase their climate credentials. Sceptics then questioned whether self-promotion overshadowed actual progress, while proponents asserted that slowing the pace of climate change requires the world’s largest companies to be closely involved.

We anticipate a very different environment at COP27. While many multinationals will send their Chief Sustainability Officer and other senior representatives, the corporate presence will likely be scaled down. Companies may face tough questions over greenwashing, as Coca-Cola has in recent weeks, host country Egypt’s human rights record, and the exclusion of some activists and NGOs.

If companies can inject enthusiasm and compel action at COP27, it could lift the summit significantly. But they face a communications challenge to do it with authenticity and credibility, using their powerful voices to making advocacy for the climate their strongest message.

  1. Amidst global economic uncertainty, will we finally see progress on climate finance? FINANCE

Heading into COP27, concerns about recession in many large, high-income countries – and a healthy dose of self-inflicted pain in the case of the UK – are looming large. Despite evidence-based arguments about the economic opportunity in climate action, the long-term financial benefits of the energy transition, and the risk of further investment in stranded assets, governments and businesses may struggle to stomach further financial commitments.

That’s a tough message to hear for the lower-income countries that have been disappointed by the failure to meet the $100 billion annual target in climate finance from the wealthiest nations. These lower-income countries, often the most susceptible to climate change and yet lacking the resources to transform their energy systems, rebuild infrastructure and establish defence mechanisms, are counting on bigger, richer nations to provide support for a just transition.

Getting to the $100 billion target is more than symbolic. Many experts argue that it is essential if we want to limit global heating and reshape the 21st-century economy.

  1. How will African countries use their voice at the continent’s COP?

One of the most memorable moments of COP26 was an impassioned speech by Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, who came armed with concrete proposals for action on climate finance. Since then, she has led the charge by smaller nations to have major financial institutions redistribute hundreds of billions of dollars of special drawing rights (SDRs) and other debt instruments for climate finance.

The Egyptian Presidency has emphasised that COP27 will be Africa’s COP, at a time when the continent faces deep challenges from climate change, despite producing just an estimated three percent of global emissions.

So how will African leaders use the platform to demand greater attention to the potentially catastrophic impact of the climate crisis on the continent? And how can they reinforce the broader debate about climate inequity and climate justice for communities and demographic groups most affected?

We expect the voices and stories from Africa will be essential listening during COP27. Whether they prompt wealthy nations to provide support and recognise the opportunity in Africa is an open question.

The potential for a successful COP27 remains if leaders and delegates can unite to seize the moment. As the summit progresses, the FleishmanHillard COP Unit will provide insights and commentary on these issues and more.

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