The world’s complexity will be on display at COP27; climate leadership must match it
In just a matter of days, leaders from government, civil society, industry, and finance will gather in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the 27th Conference of the Parties. Following COP26 in Glasgow, where leaders finalized the Paris Agreement rulebook and agreed to raise ambition, COP27 will unfold within a global polycrisis, with the world’s complexity and a new set of geopolitical fault lines on full display.
As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres put it in September, “climate is on the backburner while the planet is burning.” In recent months, eight million people in Pakistan have been displaced by flooding. Europe experienced its hottest summer in 500 years. Hurricane Ian, which studies have found global warming intensified, ripped through the Caribbean and the southeastern United States, leaving entire island nations without power.
Meanwhile, emissions are still rising. More than 800 million people still have no energy access with billions more that are significantly underserved. The war in Ukraine has exacerbated a global energy and food security crisis. The shifting geoeconomics and geopolitics have unleashed a global quest for energy security. In Europe, it has led governments to invest in unabated fossil fuel infrastructure at home while scrambling for coal and gas from Africa, the Middle East, and the U.S. — driving up energy prices globally.
These developments serve as stark reminders that Europe, despite its climate leadership, has not succeeded in enabling an energy systems transformation that also accounts for energy and economic security. This has led some European governments to embrace new approaches, potentially propelling a more tech-inclusive and green future in the medium-to-long-term.
At a recent Ministerial in South Africa, where some 40 African governments convened, leaders pushed for an Africa-centric vision that centers energy infrastructure and access as the first line of defense against climate change and the building block for mitigation, pushing for technology and pathway optionality. Leaders also reminded the world that advanced economies are still many years behind on their commitment to contribute $100 billion for climate finance in emerging economies.
At a recent COP27 Ministerial meeting in Turkey, one official made it very clear: Despite all climate pragmatism, when push comes to shove, countries will look out for their national interests — now more than ever.
Recent months have shown that we cannot expect climate action to succeed in a vacuum. Strategies that limit the world to a prescribed solution set and that fail to acknowledge the complexities of the energy system are simply not working. We need a pragmatic, flexible, inclusive, and effective approach — and we need bold leadership to champion it, including at COP27.
What leadership looks like at COP27
Here are a few principles we’ll be looking for from leaders at COP27:
1. Region-centric flexibility: Acknowledging that one size will not fit all
At COP27, leaders must acknowledge that each region, each country, and each territory has unique economic, political, and cultural forces to contend with. Successful climate strategies will be regionally and nationally based, with climate action tailored to each area’s needs. They must serve domestic economic development and energy security, goals, and guarantee survival in the future. Emerging and developing countries have the right to develop their economies, and will, in fact, be better positioned to contribute meaningfully to global decarbonization efforts from a position of economic strength, and we must acknowledge that what works in one part of the world may not be best suited to work everywhere.
Moreover, we need to move away from the simplistic frame that the rich world develops the solutions and provides the technologies to developing and emerging economies for implementation. Instead, leaders in advanced economies must find ways to form durable partnerships with those in the developing world, helping to co-develop solutions and collaborate on delivering access to energy. This will create a first line of defense against climate change by setting a strong foundation for indigenous innovation and industrial and manufacturing investment. This includes supporting the shortening of technology development and deployment times through investing in innovation, capacity building, knowledge sharing, and infrastructure scoping.
2. Technology optionality: Ensuring we have a diversity of pathways available
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Working Group III report on mitigation 6 months ago. Among other recommendations, the report calls for more diverse analytical frameworks that consider the full scope of the climate challenge, underscoring the importance of advancing a broad portfolio of mitigation strategies and carbon-free technologies to meet the world’s climate goals. Acknowledging the diversity of circumstances and the importance of this regional flexibility, leaders must also recognize the need to pursue a wide array of solutions and decarbonization pathways to match it. Having a variety of carbon-free technologies and policy pathways available allows more flexibility to tailor decarbonization efforts to a region’s unique circumstances — and hedges against scenarios where one or two pathways become blocked due to unforeseen circumstances. The more pathways we can pursue simultaneously, the more tools we have in our toolkit, the greater our likelihood of success.
To put this principle into practice, we’d like to see climate finance be inclusive of a wide range of solutions, a point that was also echoed at a Ministerial co-hosted by CATF at the Clean Energy Ministerial during the Global Climate Action Forum.
And there has been growing momentum. The U.S. is back at the table with the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act forming the foundation for transformational investments in climate action, increasing the U.S.’s chances of reaching its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), and potentially unlocking steep cost reductions for the diverse array of technologies we need to mitigate climate change around the world.
There are many bright spots. Renewable energy capacity is expected to increase over 8% in 2022 compared with last year, pushing through the 300 GW mark for the first time. New policy support has spurred dozens of carbon capture and storage project announcements, including CO2 transport and storage, and hydrogen hubs. In a quest for energy security, several regions and countries are revisiting nuclear energy as a carbon-free source, including California, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Finland, and the Netherlands. We’re also seeing progress in the fuels market, with the first shipment for blue ammonia going from the UAE to Germany, auguring the future of fuels in a carbon constrained world. Post Glasgow, scores of countries from all regions have included advanced energy technologies including nuclear, carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen technologies in their NDCs.
Finally, COP27 will shine a spotlight on hard-to-abate sectors and the solutions needed to decarbonize them. On “Decarbonization Day,” we’ll see a focus on the oil and gas, cement, fertilizer, and industrial sector decarbonization. These sectors together represent the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, but remain a blind spot in many climate strategies. The conversations will lay the foundation for COP28, where we expect deeper discussions on the transformation of current natural-resource-dependent economies to clean energy suppliers — and some of the region’s innovation proof-points to showcase the next generation of clean energy infrastructure.
3. Accountability: Implementation in the real world
The Egyptian COP27 Presidency has dubbed this the “implementation COP.” We expect multiple “steel in the ground” project announcements from both the private sector and governments, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors like industrial decarbonization, transportation, and marine shipping, using next generation technologies like carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, and advanced nuclear energy. These corporate and government announcements must be trackable and accountable at future COPs to ensure follow-through — with clearly defined actions, responsibilities, and milestones for financing, implementation, asset transformation, and technology deployment.
They must also come with an understanding that implementation requires targeted policy mechanisms and planning to support the large-scale buildout of the technologies we’ll need to get the job done. Governments must put in place mechanisms that deliver steel-in-the-ground investments, and to also ensure their labor force is prepared to deliver these projects — including by instituting training programs to ensure the energy transition is a driver of good, high-paying jobs. And we will need to develop deployment strategies that can cope with the staggering amount of new carbon-free infrastructure that needs to be built in a very crowded world, and the kind of deliberate spatial planning necessary to build at scale and speed.
4. Dual Action on CO2 and Methane: Planning for the long term while acting in the short term
Even as we must also act quickly to reduce the amount of warming we’ll experience in the next twenty years, pulling all the levers we have available for fast action, we must recognize that climate change is not a conventional “problem” that can be “solved” but will be a centuries-long chronic condition. That means we must develop strategies, technologies, and systems that work to actively manage greenhouse gas emissions over the long-term. Reducing methane emissions is the fastest strategy we have to reduce global warming now, and many of the solutions we need to do it are available to us right now. Over the past year more than 120 countries have signed onto the Global Methane Pledge – and we expect them to increase ambition to address methane emissions from oil and gas, agriculture, and waste, and to showcase the ways they are turning that ambition into action in Sharm el-Sheikh.
CATF at COP27
CATF will send a team of delegates to Sharm el-Sheikh to advocate for this new kind of leadership at the highest levels — asking hard climate questions and convening conversations on plenary stages, in country pavilions, in bilateral meetings, at offsite events, and behind closed-doors with stakeholders across sectors and geographies.
We’ll also host the Zero-Carbon Future pavilion in the Blue Zone, providing a platform for conversations that reckon with the hard realities of climate change and advance an approach that incorporates systems thinking, region-centric strategies, and the recognition that we’ll need more — not fewer — solutions available to meet the diverse demands of our global economy.
Our goal is to drive actions and conversations at COP27 to a level that is commensurate with the scale and complexity of the climate challenge. The world faces competing priorities, shifting geopolitics, unforeseen risks, and hard trade-offs. As these factors converge in Sharm el-Sheikh, we’ll need an expansive, inclusive approach to climate action that meets the various needs of people around the globe. With many of the world’s most influential stakeholders gathered in one place, we’ll have a clear opportunity to push the conversation in a more realistic direction. We’ll be there to ask hard questions, offer new thinking on solutions, and elevate the urgency for more action-driven climate leadership that considers the full scope of the climate challenge.