It seems like only yesterday that we were writing on the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26.The year has gone by incredibly quickly – a bit of an unsightly blur of political upheaval (both within and beyond our own borders), natural disaster and, of course, the growing pressure of financial hardship for so many people around the world.
This time last year, we billed COP26 as a make-or-break moment for climate reform. It felt very much as though the world were on the very brink of change, and that the upcoming conference would really set the heading for the next twelve months, and beyond.
We were hopeful, as were a lot of people. The prospect of a green recovery from Covid-19 still seemed tantalisingly close, and awareness of the true scale of the climate crisis had really started to gain traction in mainstream media.
Since then, however, it feels as though the mood has dropped. The energy crisis has turned into a big, dark cloud that hangs over most of the world, and foretells greater hardship with no clear end in sight. The drive toward sustainable, largescale solutions has been overshadowed by obstinacy from the government, financial domination by the giants of the fossil fuel sector, and second-best solutions (like new nuclear power plants). The war between Ukraine and Russia has proven quite how dependent we remain on fossil fuels, and quite how devastated the country can be when access is cut off.
So, what can we expect from this next conference which, at the moment, seems to represent nothing more than a reminder of the fact that an entire year has passed since our hopes were raised?
When and Where is COP27 Going to be Held?
COP27 will take place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. It is due to start on Sunday 6th November, and run through to Friday 18th. The city received a grant of $7 million in June of this year to transform itself into a sustainable destination, under the Sharm Green City Project Agreement. The progress made as a result of this project – including the drive to implement solar technologies and EV charging ports throughout the city – will be presented to participants of COP27 next month.
Will the Prime Minister Attend COP27?
Rishi Sunak’s stance on climate reform is, perhaps, a little more hopeful than that of his predecessor, Liz Truss. This is largely down to the fact that he has not publicly subscribed to the vehement objections to solar that Truss voiced back in early October.
The writers at edie have put together a comprehensive review of Sunak’s climate credentials. Unsurprisingly, it paints a rather inconsistent and murky picture – one that is, presumably, trying to balance many different interests (vested or otherwise) at once.
So far, Sunak appears to be in favour of licensing large scale oil and gas permits in the North Sea, but his involvement in a number of largescale efforts toward the country’s net zero goal as chancellor last year offers some promise. Then again, his willingness to ‘go against the grain’ and vote for positive measures that may not align with the interests of his party has proven to be quite lax.
In other words, it remains to be seen quite how invested Sunak is in climate reform, and in meeting the country’s targets for net zero carbon emissions over the coming years. His focus during these early weeks will no doubt fall on the cost-of-living crisis, but climate change is not a consideration that can be ‘tabled’ until further notice. Both concerns go hand in hand.
Will King Charles Attend COP27?
A few weeks ago, we wrote on King Charles’ longstanding commitment to the environment, and his down-to-earth, un-filtered approach to climate change and crisis.
Until quite recently, it appeared King Charles did plan on attending the conference and making a speech about climate change. Doing so would have represented a strong, decisive move from a new monarch, and a proactive alliance with the needs of the people and his country as it stands today.
During Truss’s time as Prime Minister, however, the King’s plans changed at her request, made during a private audience shortly after the King’s accession. It is unclear why Truss was against the King making an appearance at COP27, particularly in light of the fact that the late Queen gave a speech at last year’s conference without stirring up controversy or tension.
In the past, the King has urged world leaders to invest trillions of dollars in a relentless drive to climate reform. Whether or not these urges align with the evolving conservative party remains to be seen.
Since Sunak’s rise to Prime Minister in mid-October, no further word has been said about King Charles’ role at COP27. It may well be that Sunak takes a different approach – or, alternatively, that King Charles plans on making his support for the conference known without actually travelling to the event in person.
What Will be on the Agenda this Year?
The most significant difference between COP26 and the plans for COP27 is action. While this time last year, the emphasis seemed to be placed on pledging and planning for a manageable (though significant) shift toward climate reform, this year sees the emphasis being [placed on implementation at scale.
Due to the unprecedented scale and scope of the negotiations, it is impossible to say quite what that shift will translate to in real terms – whether COP27 will represent the definitive ‘starting point’ of widespread action, or whether progress will continue on at the same slow pace we have experienced (at least, within the United Kingdom) throughout 2022.
Collaboration is considered one of the key targets for the conference, and the Egypt Vision reaffirms that ‘Ensuring humans are at the center of climate talks is imperative’.
This year has seen many different examples of the devastating toll of the climate crisis. Thousands were injured, and more than a thousand killed (including hundreds of children) as a result of the catastrophic floods in Pakistan this year. Homes, livelihoods, crops and animals were lost. From rising cases of malaria and malnutrition to long-term disruption to food and water supplies, the events in Pakistan are proof of the widespread toll a single disaster can cause for millions of people.
This summer, we bore witness to the hottest summer on record across Europe. From Spain to Wennington, Essex, wildfires burned. Firefighters in London saw their busiest day since World War II, as well over 2,000 calls came in within a single day.
Elsewhere, devasting weather – from hurricanes to storms and drought – have consistently made the headlines, and continued to impress on the general public the pressing nature of the climate crisis.
Closer to home, the cost-of-living crisis that has been hanging over countless households since the price cap rise in April, partially driven by the Russia-Ukraine war, but also driven by an as-of-yet unshakeable dependence on fossil fuels. Despite the country’s move toward renewable alternatives like wind and solar PV, the past year has been proof of quite how reliant we remain on harmful, unsustainable, and expensive sources of energy.
In essence, 2022 has been the year to prove that we are not on the brink of a climate catastrophe. That time has passed. Now, we are actively in the catastrophe; it is here and, unless we take decisive action, it is here to stay. People are already suffering far beyond what we may have expected just a few years ago; headlines are rolling in faster than many of us could have anticipated; promises are being forgotten in a non-stop reel of global tragedies – many of which could, with earlier action, have been circumvented.
Can We Afford to Be Hopeful?
We can (and should) always be quietly hopeful that we will bear witness to a major U-turn from our government, while still being realistic about the fact that a major U-turn is what we need. We cannot get by on half-measures, or on compromises that continue to benefit the world’s fossil fuel giants. It is not financially or environmentally viable for any future to be decided that way.
What we cannot afford to be is complacent. With so many households across the country still dependent on fossil fuels – and, of course, paying thousands a year in energy bills – and so many lives around the planet at stake, the time for talk without action has passed. Thankfully, the very vision put forth for COP27 fully recognises that need for immediate implementation, and not just idealistic talk. Whether or not that need can be acknowledged by the world leaders who will attend the conference remains to be seen.
So, yes, we can be hopeful, but we also all need to be realistic, and to have realistic expectations of tangible change and decisive action. If we move on from COP27 without that plan in place and without enough pressure on world leaders to act on their words, then we will face a very tricky prospect moving into 2023.