The COP27 climate summit: What to expect and why it matters

The annual COP is the largest and most important climate action event of the year and is a critical step in prioritizing collective efforts to fight climate change. 

Chris Fenwick, OneTrust Head of ESG Center of Excellence
November 14, 2022

photo of rows of solar panels in a rural farm. The dusk sun is setting, giving a amber and blue color to the solar panels.

From November 6-18, Egypt is hosting the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Held annually in different locations, COP is the largest and most important climate action event of the year and is a critical step in the prioritization of collective efforts to fight climate change. This year over 30,000 world and business leaders, NGOs, climate activists, and experts are coming together for two weeks to collaborate on strategies for addressing the global climate crisis. COP 2022 is widely viewed as a critical inflection point in the climate crisis: will global leaders commit to what is needed at COP27 to prevent the worst predicted outcomes of climate change?

“A third of Pakistan flooded. Europe’s hottest summer in 500 years. The Philippines hammered. The whole of Cuba in blackout. And … in the United States, Hurricane Ian has delivered a brutal reminder that no country and no economy is immune from the climate crisis.”

– UN Secretary-General António Guterres at a pre-COP27 meeting

To learn more about setting climate goals for your business and creating a credible climate action story, download the free Guide to setting corporate climate goals


What’s COP? How does it work?

The COP is the decision-making body of the UNFCC. All nations (or parties) that have signed the UNFCC are represented at the annual COP, where they review, adopt, and promote measures to implement the goals and objectives of the Convention. By signing the UNFCC, these parties are committing to stabilizing greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations at a level that would prevent catastrophic, human-induced interference with the climate system. As of COP27 2022, there are 198 signatories.


What’s the UNFCCC?

The UNFCCC was adopted in 1992 at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, commonly referred to as Earth Summit. It established an international treaty to combat human-caused climate change, with 166 nations signing by June 1993. The UNFCCC entered into force on March 21, 1994, and the parties to the Convention have been meeting almost annually since the first COP in Berlin in 1995. One key element of the UNFCCC is that it puts the onus on developed countries to lead the way in climate action since they are the source of most past and current GHG emissions. Industrialized nations (Annex 1 countries) are expected to make significant cuts to their own emissions, report regularly on their progress, and provide financial support to developing nations for climate action.


How does COP27 relate to the Paris Climate Agreement?

The Paris Climate Agreement, or Paris Agreement under UNFCCC, was adopted by 196 parties at COP21 in Paris in December 2015. It’s a legally binding international treaty that aims to limit global warming to well below 2°C, with a broader ambition to limit warming to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) was launched the same year as the Paris Agreement to provide guidance to organizations on how to set and achieve science-based targets in line with the Agreement. However, lack of progress on emissions reductions in the years following Paris has led to the discontinuation of science-based targeting at the 2°C level. Climate scientists now advise an expedited transition to global net-zero economies is necessary to prevent global warming from achieving catastrophic levels.


What does COP have to do with the Kyoto Protocol?

Oh, and remember the Kyoto Protocol? That was agreed upon at COP3 in Kyoto, Japan in 1997 and entered into force in February 2005. Representing the first international agreement on GHG reductions, it operationalized the UNFCCC by committing countries to individual reduction targets. Post COP3, there were some challenges with inconsistent adoption and withdrawals by key party countries, so an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol was adopted at COP18 in Doha, Qatar. The Doha Amendment extended the commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol to 2013-2020. As of October 2020, 147 parties had made commitments, allowing the Amendment to enter into force in December 2020 (the minimum threshold was 144 parties). It also called for the establishment of a new global agreement to be developed by 2015 and implemented by 2020. See the previous paragraph.


What happened at the last COP?

COP26 took place in Glasgow, Scotland in October 2021, with more than 120 world leaders and 40,000 participants in attendance. Starting on October 31, the parties reinforced the commitment to reducing warming to well below 2°C with efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C. But they also acknowledged that human activities had already caused warming to 1.1°C and depletion of established carbon budgets to an alarming extent.


Setting more robust GHG reduction targets

As a result, parties were asked to take stronger action to reduce carbon emissions at an expedited rate as part of the new Glasgow Climate Pact. Participants are supposed to develop more aggressive emissions reduction plans by COP 2022 (COP27). Additionally, participants agreed to pursue phasing down (not out, as many participants rightly preferred) of fossil fuels and subsidies that benefit the industry.


Doubling down on financial support for climate action in developing countries

The participants also acknowledged their failure to deliver on their commitment to contribute $100 billion a year to support climate action in developing countries to date. They recommitted to meeting this goal by 2023 and called for doubling financial support for developing countries adapting to climate change impacts. Additionally, the parties agreed to strengthen the Santiago Network which works to connect climate change vulnerable countries to technologies, resources, and other assistance needed to address climate risks and impacts.


Additional COP26 commitments

The parties committed to targeting additional specific leverage points in the fight against climate change. These include commitments to halt deforestation, establishing limits on methane (25 times more potent than CO2 in global warming potential), transition to zero emission vehicles, transition away from coal-generated power, and financing a net-zero economy.


Why is COP27 an inflection point in the climate crisis?

The ultimate reality is we are behind schedule on our commitments to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. The UN Emissions Gap Report 2022, released last month ahead of COP27 illustrates why this is the case. According to the report, “policies currently in place point to a 2.8°C temperature rise by the end of the century.” It also notes that “updated national pledges since COP26 make a negligible difference to predicted 2030 emissions.” In short, to avoid a climate catastrophe, we can no longer have a fossil fuel driven economy, we need financial institutions to fund the transition, and we need to pick up the pace.


What’s on the agenda for COP27?

COP27 is going to address progress made since COP26, updates to the science, and a reaffirmation that climate change is a happening and humans are causing it. The overarching theme for COP27 is “delivering for people and the planet,” alluding to a renewed solidarity between the parties to deliver on the Paris Agreement for people and the planet. There are a few specific topics on the agenda for consideration. These include, among others:

  • Climate change adaptation and resilience
  • Protecting those who have been or will be impacted by the current effects of climate change
  • Climate finance
  • How we will fund the transition to a net-zero economy
  • What net-zero means and how can we go justly and sustainably achieve it
  • Renewable energy and its criticality to the clean energy transition
  • Climate-related losses and damage, including the destructive and disruptive impacts of climate change on biodiversity and its role in climate resilience and adaptation.

What does this mean for businesses?

The ideas and commitments from COP ultimately influence the regulatory frameworks in party jurisdictions. Though it may seem like a lot of talk, this influence has ultimately affected the playing field for companies relative to climate risk and disclosure requirements. Party countries, especially in Europe, have already begun to establish regulatory frameworks in support of their Paris commitments, such as the European Green Deal and the UK’s Climate Change Act of 2008. And many of these regulations are centered around climate finance and enabling the transition to net-zero economies, such as the EU Taxonomy, CSRD and SFDR. Most of these recommendations, at a minimum, have established requirements for businesses to evaluate their carbon footprints, regardless of perceived risk. They also establish disclosure standards for stakeholders to understand, in standardized and comparable formats, corporate climate and ESG risks and opportunities. So, businesses should pay attention to what is being discussed and ultimately what commitments are made.


How can you engage with COP27?

Climate change is a top-of-mind issue for stakeholders (investors, customers, partners, employees), affecting their decision-making. For many companies, COP27 will represent an opportunity to demonstrate their engagement on this important issue to their stakeholders, as well adapting the learnings into evolving sustainability strategies. Though it is extremely difficult to attend (outside of being a selected corporate partner of the UNFCCC), it’s easy to follow the event on the COP27 website and speak up on key topics that are relevant to your organization and its stakeholders. This could include a blog such as this one, acknowledgment in your company’s annual report, and quite frankly, changing your sustainability strategy to reflect the urgency with more robust commitments on your part to reduce GHG emissions.


How can you attend a future COP event?

Access to the COPs is limited to the parties, their delegations, and accredited “observer organizations” that are made up of NGOs and IGOs with climate or sustainability-related missions or interests. The process for obtaining observer status starts two years prior to the related COP. For example, the application process for COP28 in Doha, Qatar, closed in August of 2021. COP29’s application portal is currently open, likely to be hosted in Australia in 2024. Businesses can secure attendance privileges through partnership proposals with the UNFCCC, as a member of party or observer delegations, or through other channels made available by the host country specifically for corporate engagement. However, participation in these channels can be very expensive.


What’s OneTrust doing for COP27?

Though we couldn’t attend COP27 in person this year, we recognize its importance to our shared commitment and progress on climate action.  OneTrust is aligned with the purpose of the UNFCCC and the COPs. We accept the science that indicates humans are contributing to increasing GHGs in the atmosphere, along with the corresponding increase in average global temperatures and extreme weather events. We’ve committed to set a net-zero target aligned with the SBTi and have completed our baseline scope 1, 2 and 3 carbon footprint to help us understand where we are and what we need to change to meet the target. And we are proud to offer the OneTrust ESG & Sustainability Cloud to help our customers with their carbon accounting, ESG program management and supplier risk management, all in support of our shared belief that’s what’s good for the planet is good for business. More information on our ESG approach and strategy can be found on our website, and we look forward to sharing updates with our stakeholders and interested parties in the future. Please stay tuned for our follow-up post on our blog after COP27 where we’ll try to synthesize the key takeaways and outcomes.

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