Global Sustainability Agenda #6: COPs are not meant to save the world – Progress on climate change has been real, but still too slow

COPs are not meant to save the world

Global Sustainability Reality

From carbon capture to King Charles: what to look out for at Cop28 (The Guardian)

COP28 Holds Key to Global Carbon Market That Could Help Improve Offsets (Bloomberg)

Now is the time to climate-proof Europe’s economy (IEA)

Green transport corridors – linking Europe and Scandinavia (AJOT)

Global Sustainability Business Impact

A Different Approach to Climate Action – What if we actually succeed in addressing the crisis? (NYTimes)

TotalEnergies commits to its employees’ energy transition (Energy Times)

Fils, a pioneering FinTech platform, launches a payments platform to transform ESG, helping businesses integrate sustainable values into their digital payment offerings. Functioning as a holistic B2B2C enterprise solution, Fils harnesses cutting-edge technologies to revolutionize industries such as financial services, hospitality, and e-commerce (Fintech Global)

The path forward

The agreement at the COP 21 to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which took place in Paris in 2015, was somewhat impotent. As many pointed out at the time, it could not tell countries what to do; it could not end the fossil-fuel age; it could not draw back the seas, placate the winds or dim the noonday sun. Yet, it could establish a precedent for upcoming COPs by mandating that this year’s event includes the inaugural “global stocktake.” This comprehensive assessment would evaluate the progress made and identify areas where efforts have fallen short in advancing the overarching goals of the agreement.

As the world gathers in Dubai for the 28th COP, the assessment of the first part of that stocktake is, in some ways, surprisingly positive. At the time of COP 21, the global warming expected by 2100 if policies did not change was more than 3°C above pre-industrial levels. If policies in place today are followed, central estimates put it around 2.5-2.9°C, though the uncertainties are large. That is still disastrously high, but it is also a marked improvement.

Significant strides in this advancement have been driven by the more affordable and widespread adoption of renewable energy. In 2015, the global installed solar capacity stood at 230 gigawatts; however, in the past year alone, it surged to an impressive 1,050 gigawatts. Notably, improved policies have also played a role in this positive shift. Back in 2014, only 12% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions fell under carbon-pricing schemes, with an average price of $7 per tonne. Fast forward to today, and 23% of greenhouse gas emissions are now covered by such schemes, with the average price per tonne hovering around $32.

These advancements, among others, contribute to the optimistic outlook of the International Energy Agency. Initially forecasting a continuous rise in carbon dioxide emissions until the 2040s, around the time of the Paris Agreement, the agency now anticipates a likely peak in emissions within the next few years. However, achieving a peak is just the initial step; subsequent rapid reductions are imperative to bring the projected warming down to the target of 2°C. Historically, the relentless increase in emissions has been synonymous with economic growth over two centuries. Reversing this trend could be viewed as the end of the beginning in the ongoing battle for a stable climate.

To attribute all this progress solely to the Paris Agreement would be oversimplifying, but the framework it set in motion established new expectations and compelled countries to engage in meaningful discussions about climate issues. By articulating that a stable climate necessitates balancing residual carbon dioxide sources with “sinks” that remove it from the atmosphere, Paris brought the concept of net-zero goals to the forefront. In 2015, only one country had such a goal; now, 101 countries have embraced it.

In a world where the seasons are becoming increasingly unpredictable, COPs provide a reliable annual forum in the international calendar for forging side agreements and expressing new commitments. A recent joint statement by Joe Biden, the President of the United States, and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, played a pivotal role in building momentum for a COP-adjacent deal on methane emissions. Additionally, they committed their nations to contribute to the ambitious target of tripling renewable generating capacity by 2030—an objective that the United Arab Emirates seeks to have remembered as part of its COP legacy.

The COPs, while instrumental in providing a framework for the surge in renewable energy, did not single-handedly rescue the world. Paris set the stage, but the essential investment for this transformation had to come from the private sector. The required doubling of investment levels, crucial for the proposed tripling in capacity, necessitates proactive efforts from countries to redesign energy markets, expedite permits, enhance grids significantly, and eliminate policies that still favor fossil fuels.

Despite these endeavors, climate change persists, as the primary driver of global warming is the cumulative amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As long as net emissions persist, temperatures will continue to rise. The inescapable warming, accelerated since Paris, has reached a point where it can no longer be deferred as a problem of the future. This year, the impacts of climate change have been particularly pronounced, with successive months setting record-high temperatures.

The trajectory of warming may not continue indefinitely, but halting it before reaching net zero requires unconventional measures. In contrast, mechanisms for carbon dioxide removal align more seamlessly with COP’s purview. However, concerns persist, especially when oil companies frame carbon dioxide removal as a justification for maintaining production levels. To assuage such apprehensions, countries must explicitly outline their removal plans in the upcoming “Nationally Determined Contributions” due by 2025. To prevent ambiguity, they should also be mandated to maintain separate targets for removals and emission reductions. This clarity is essential to mitigate skepticism and ensure genuine progress in the collective fight against climate change.

Beatriz Canamary

Beatriz Canamary is a consultant in Sustainable and Resilient Business, Doctor and Professor in Business, Civil Engineer, specialized in Mergers and Acquisitions from the Harvard Business School, and mom of triplets. Today she is dedicated to the effective application of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Multinationals.

She is an ESG enthusiast and makes it possible to carry out sustainable projects, such as energy transition and net-zero carbon emissions. She has +15 years of expertise in large infrastructure projects.

Member of the World Economic Forum, Academy of International Business and Academy of Economics and Finance.