Keeping 1.5C alive: Will businesses step up where world leaders faltered at COP27?

The official texts from COP27 were finalised in the early hours of Sunday morning, with some concerning and confusing language used in regard to energy and the 1.5C limit. But what have business leaders made of negotiations in Egypt, and has this dented their commitments to net-zero?

Keeping 1.5C alive: Will businesses step up where world leaders faltered at COP27?

In what has been described by those attending as a chaotic summit, COP27 finally struck a landmark agreement and published its final document in the early hours of Sunday morning (20 November), more than 36 hours after discussions were scheduled to finish.

While a monumental agreement was delivered that will see developed nations contribute to a loss and damage funding facility, expected to commence next year, exhausted delegates expressed their disappointment at the weakening of key language in the final text that creates confusion and potential loopholes around “low emissions” energy to be used alongside renewables.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the formation of the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, but noted that deals stuck at COP27 did not adequately introduce mechanisms to take the planet out of “the emergency room”. Other green groups have expressed mixed reaction, which you can read here.

While negotiators made final changes to the text behind closed doors in the Blue Zone, the business community watched on, waiting to see what political support the net-zero movement would receive.

At the end of the first week at COP27, hundreds of the world’s largest businesses and civil society groups delivered a joint declaration of action to meeting 1.5C at COP27, calling on nations to “decide where they stand” in raising ambitions in order to meet the aims of the Paris Agreement.

Convened through the We Mean Business coalition, prominent corporate leaders including Sir Richard Branson, Steve Howard, Arianna Huffington, Mary Robinson and Johan Rockström have joined more than 200 businesses in signing a declaration that business and civil society is “all in” to deliver the Paris Agreement.

However, a week is a long time in COP negotiations, and it seems that while breakthroughs were made on loss and damage, weakened language in the energy section of COP27’s cover text has left many confused as to how committed nations are to keeping 1.5C alive.

As the gavel came down in Sharm el-Sheikh that Aldersgate Group convened many of the leading businesses that it represents to get their thoughts on the outcome of COP27.

Here, edie has rounded-up those quotes, and one thing is abundantly clear: business remains steadfast in its collective desire to reach net-zero.

Chair of the Aldersgate Group and former Prime Minister, Theresa May:

“The United Kingdom has played a leading role in encouraging action on climate change around the world. Following on from COP27, the Government must not only progress our own climate change agenda but continue to promote and strengthen that coordinated global action.

“Reaching net zero and conserving our environment for future generations relies on all of us working together; many countries are facing difficult times but by making the right decisions over the next few years, we can meet our climate and environmental targets in a way that creates jobs and can be good for economies and good for our planet.”
Prior to the final agreement at COP27 over the weekend, a group of business leaders reiterated efforts to keep 1.5C alive by halving value chain emissions by 2030.

Businesses including Unilever, BT and Ikea issued the declaration at COP27, calling on other corporates to join them in a collective initiative to tackle emissions in the value chain. The Exponential Roadmap Initiative was launched in September 2020, as part of the Race to Zero campaign, with Ikea, Unilever, BT, Ericsson and Telia named among the founding corporate members of the 1.5C supply chain leaders. This scheme, and its other workstreams, are supported by the We Mean Business coalition.

BT Group’s head of environmental sustainability Gabrielle Ginér

“Following COP27, we need to see pledges and ambitions turned into actions and implementation. Governments and non-state actors must unite to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. As a business, we know what we have to do. We remain committed to 1.5 c and are hopeful that others will join us in the race to zero.”

Aviva Investors chief responsible investment officer Steve Waygood

“The focus of this COP was supposed to be implementation. Despite welcome re-commitment to some of the ambitions already stated in Glasgow, it is clear that the implementation gap is growing when we need to shrink it rapidly. It was however hugely welcome to see the traction that transition plans are gaining in terms of turning long term ambitions into short term, measurable actions.

“We need greater commitment to transition plans across the private sector but also need transition plans and guidance from governments to support their Nationally Determined Contributions and from the systematically important supervisors and regulators within the international financial architecture so that we create the enabling environment for the private sector to play its part in closing the implementation gap. The momentum building behind reform of the IMF and Multilateral Development Banks is hugely important, but needs to be supported by reform of the whole of the international financial architecture to create the conditions for private sector action to support multilateral and national ambition.”

Buro Happold’s global sustainability and climate change lead Duncan Price

“COP27 has highlighted the critical role of the built environment in providing a resilient and zero emissions future. Our research for C40 cities shows that the zero-carbon transition can deliver significant health, environmental and economic benefits. Now we need governments around the world to come forward with climate targets, action plans and funding commitments in line with a 1.5C target. “

Co-op chief executive Shirine Khoury-Haq

“What has been achieved at COP27 should be celebrated, but we would now urge governments around the world to ensure that addressing the climate crisis is their top priority. We also urge the need for climate justice, as the burden that the climate crisis is already placing on some of the world’s most vulnerable communities cannot continue. Collectively, it is imperative that we move from promises to action to combat the climate crisis.

“I particularly welcome the focus during the course of COP27 on water. Water is crucial to all forms of life, but we are already hearing loud and clear from those communities in our supply chain in the global south that the climate crisis is making water security an increasingly immediate and acute issue. That is why I am proud that over the last 15 years, the Co-op has raised over £20 million to fund water security programmes in our supply chains and beyond, changing the lives of over 2.5 million people.”

The Crown Estate’s executive director of purpose, sustainability and stakeholder Judith Everett:

“Over the last week, COP27 has put the urgent need for action to address the twin crises facing nature and our climate in the spotlight. While the complexity of the challenge cannot be underestimated, the UK has shown through its creation of a world leading offshore wind sector that it is possible to accelerate green investment.

“With greater international collaboration and innovation around renewable energy, as well as protecting and enhancing the natural environment, we believe there is huge potential to create partnerships that can operate at scale to achieve a better future for people and the planet.”

National Grid’s chief sustainability officer Rhian Kelly

“Reaching net zero is more important than ever. We must harness the momentum from COP27 to redouble efforts and go further, faster to limit global warming to 1.5C. In the months ahead, there is a significant opportunity for governments, regulators and businesses to work together and accelerate progress towards a clean and fair energy transition that will create a better future for everyone.”

Finance Earth’s co-founder Rich Speake, co-Founder

We are delighted that the UK Government has committed £30m of seed funding to the Big Nature Impact Fund, to signal the role that private investment can play in helping to solve the twin nature and climate crises. But we also note that the annual nature funding gap is $700Bn globally and £6bn in the UK.

“Nature is a critical and essential part of solving the climate crisis. We hope that the commitments at COP26 are just the start of a wave of investment for both nature and climate. The biodiversity COP15 in Canada next month provides an opportunity for both UK Government and UK businesses to demonstrate tangible leadership on a global stage to ensure we are at the forefront of delivering the real on the ground impact that our planet and society so desperately need. Urgent delivery is what matters now.

Kingfisher’s director of responsible business Jack Cunningham:

“With the chance of breaching 1.5oC currently estimated at 50% within the next nine years, it’s vital that action is accelerated to minimise the impact of climate change and drive the economic opportunities of a low carbon transition.

“Whilst some progress in Egypt has been made, such as the explicit recognition of the need to accelerate clean and just transitions to renewable energy, there remains a significant gap between many nations targets and their action plans and funding commitments. From a UK business perspective, the impetus generated by Egypt should be channelled by the UK Government into strengthening its own Net Zero Strategy. This can provide the policy certainty required to encourage private investment into the necessary low carbon products and services.”

Siemens Energy’s vice president Steve Scrimshaw

“There is no alternative to the energy transition – we need to act together for just, ambitious implementation now. There are no reasons or excuses to wait for action. All technologies needed are available and COP27 has made it clear that without major changes global warming will increase.

“As one of the world’s leading energy technology companies, Siemens Energy is committed to delivering on energy and renewable infrastructure projects to help nations hit their net zero targets. But we can’t do this alone. It has to be a national endeavour in the UK and across the globe, with the private and public sector working together. The clock is ticking, we can do this, but there’s not much time.”

Norton Rose Fulbright LLP’s sustainability partner and chair of The Law Society Working Group on climate change Caroline May

“While COP27 has been useful in focussing the world’s attention once again on this agenda there is an increased urgency for more sustained action across all areas of economic activity in the developed world to drive change and assist adaptation and mitigation of climate impacts felt in the developing world.

“Business and professional services have a huge role to play and good business must now be sustainable in all areas of activity and not just pay lip service to it. The Aldersgate Group and its members have a huge role to play in ensuring the UK steps up to its climate change commitments”.

WSP’s UK director of sustainability David Symons

“COP27 has reinforced the need for businesses to have credible net zero plans in place as well as governments, and the focus on loss and adaptation has put resilience to climate change front and centre. Further, with Egypt as host, it has highlighted the unique challenges that the African continent faces. Discussion will no doubt be had on whether all was achieved during the conference that was hoped for, but it’s delivery that counts now: delivering fast emission cuts, delivering resilient infrastructure and delivering the growth opportunities from climate action.”

Earthwatch Europe’s chief executive Steve Andrews

“Our world leaders must now show their mettle on climate change. They have the power to harness the global economic system and get its extraordinary power working in the interests of the environment. Now is the time to incentivise the right behaviour and disincentivise the wrong. We are not going to save humanity if we do not put a proper price on carbon if we overlook the importance of nature or if we continue to resist calls to tax polluters.”

IEMA chief executive Sarah Mukherjee MBE

“At the beginning of the COP27 talks we highlighted the catastrophic human risks associated with global warming. These risks still remain in place, despite some important developments at this year’s COP27, including support for a loss and damage financing fund for developing nations, and new commitments on emissions reductions and renewable energy, while the significance of Brazil’s return to the world stage as a climate leader cannot be overstated.

However, much more needs to be done to support the Global South in adapting to the worst impacts of climate change, and to deliver the green skills and jobs necessary for a sustainable and low-carbon economy. IEMA is well placed to support the high-level measures agreed in Sharm El Sheikh, and will continue to make the case for a radical increase in green skills and knowledge across all sectors as we prepare for COP28 in the UAE next year.”

Aldersgate Group’s executive director Nick Molho

“Despite an important breakthrough on loss and damage, COP27 did not go far enough to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels and ramp up climate targets around the world. However, the rapidly increasing pace of clean energy investment globally and the growing number of businesses taking on net zero targets show us that market trends are well ahead of the global political consensus and that the urgency and benefits of tackling climate change are recognised by large parts of the private sector.

“Looking to the year ahead, we need to see more nations showing how the move to net zero emissions can deliver more, not less, economic prosperity for their citizens. By rapidly plugging the gaps in its Net Zero Strategy, the UK Government can unleash the significant private low carbon investment needed to build a prosperous, resilient and net zero emissions economy in the UK and set an important international precedent in doing so.”

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