Six Things to Expect at COP27
As the climate crisis escalates, business leaders want to ensure that their organizations are doing their parts to address our planetary emergency. At the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, commonly known as COP27, business leaders will connect with heads of government, nongovernmental organizations and other stakeholders in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, as they work to build on solutions and strategies to transition to a more sustainable world.
Last year, COP26 was marked by a significant shift, with the private sector playing a notably larger role than in previous years. This trend will continue. For businesses, the stakes are higher than ever, and leaders must think deeply about how their companies will contribute to the conversation. Here’s a brief rundown of what to expect:
1. Increased Scrutiny
At COP26, we saw the private sector make substantial commitments on everything from financing to carbon-offset markets. But after another year of extreme weather events — Hurricane Ian in the United States, the floods in Pakistan, the heatwaves in the United Kingdom and many others — the impacts of climate change have never been more apparent, and the public is expecting to see the proof behind those commitments.
WE Communications’ 2022 Brands in Motion global study, developed in partnership with YouGov, finds that people are demanding transparency more than ever. When asked what makes them skeptical of brands’ values-driven promises and pledges, respondents’ No. 1 answer was “lack of data.”
Business leaders also must be aware that the biggest change in greenhouse gas reporting in a generation is just around the corner, and it will affect thousands of companies. With new legislation expected in the United States (SEC rules on climate-related disclosure) and two new European Directives focused on corporate sustainability — which will require unprecedented levels of disclosure on human rights and environmental risks — companies will be expected to reach new levels of transparency and action.
2. A Higher Profile for the Global South
This year, COP is in Africa, which will underscore the need for brands to show the impact they are having on the lives of people in the communities that are most vulnerable, particularly in the Global South.
We also expect to see many Asian countries looking to build a higher profile at COP27. Indonesia has the presidency of the G20 this year (and India has it next year), so they will likely be looking to COP27 for a platform as well.
Representatives from these regions and other developing nations are sure to raise the issue of loss and damage compensation, through which wealthier industrialized nations, which historically have been most responsible for emissions, agree to provide financial compensation to poorer nations that have experienced climate-related national disasters such as flooding or are vulnerable to longer-term changes such as desertification and rising sea levels. This has been a long-term and contentious issue, and while leaders of industrialized countries have acknowledged some responsibility and pledged support, they have fallen short of agreeing to any specific or binding loss and damage financing.
3. Less Pledges, More Action
Last year, both governments and businesses made a lot of pledges — “Net Zero by 2030,” “Climate Neutral by 2050.” However, those deadlines are still years or even decades away. Today, key stakeholders want to know what companies are doing now. WE’s new global report finds that only half of brands that have made values-based commitments are perceived to be delivering on those commitments.
COP27 is an opportunity for leaders to develop further stringent global proposals and for governments and businesses to explain how these promises will be fulfilled. Attendees should expect to see a significant focus on practical policies and processes that can push the pledges into action. Businesses must be able to share details about their decarbonization and sustainable transition plans—especially in light of greenwashing legislation in the European Union, the United States and elsewhere.
Attendees should also anticipate much more detailed conversations about financials, and the financial sector will be under the spotlight as discussions on the transition to more sustainable energy systems deepen. After all, the best-laid plans won’t go anywhere if there isn’t a way to pay for them. Companies and governments must ensure that they are backing up their bold plans and innovative programs with the resources to get the work done.
4. More Diverse Representation
At COP26, the concept of “just transition” became very prevalent, as attendees recognized the need to ensure that the move to more sustainable economies was fair to everyone. However, we still saw too many panels stacked with North American and Western European people, as chief sustainability officers of most multinational corporations are from those regions.
While brands can’t necessarily change their executive leadership overnight, they have a deeper understanding that people from underrepresented communities must have a voice, and they will be working to make their panels more diverse. Hearing from communities directly affected by climate change will be very powerful, and it’s critical to ensure that different and traditionally underrepresented voices are heard at COP27 and at all subsequent COPs.
5. More Voices from the Next Generation
The face of the climate movement is the face of a young person. This became crystal clear at COP26, when youth activists such as Greta Thunberg raised their voices and demanded that the public and private sectors take stronger action to protect their futures. At COP27, young people will continue to demand a seat at the table—and bolder and more decisive progress from government and industry. These are the people who will experience the most extreme impact of climate change, and they have a lot to say.
It is particularly important for brands to pay attention to this demographic. An October 2022 WE Communications/YouGov survey finds that young people expect companies to be part of the climate change solution in significantly higher numbers than older generations, and a study by Deloitte finds that “climate change/protecting the environment” is the No. 1 concern of Gen Z and millennial respondents. Research consistently finds that young people prefer to work for and buy from brands whose values align with theirs on sustainability and climate change. On the flip side, they are not afraid to call out governments and brands who they think are greenwashing or simply not doing enough.
6. Increased Political/News-Cycle Influences
Since last year, the geopolitical situation has changed significantly — the energy crisis, the war in Ukraine. This will cast a shadow on some of the discussions.
Also, Egypt has some challenges with its human rights situation — if there's a widespread protest, and/or arrests, it will affect the new cycle.
Finally, the U.S. midterms will take place during the first week of COP27. Backlash against environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing as well as “woke capitalism” — especially in the last year — have become key talking points for some political leaders who argue that climate change concerns have been blown out of proportion and that the push toward a green energy transition has been disastrous for the economy. The climate-change views of the more successful party will certainly color the proceedings.
Just as with elections, and weather events, no prediction system is perfect. The most important things we all must take to COP27 are open minds and the readiness to roll up our sleeves and do what we must to create a more sustainable future for all.
Kemi Akindele is a Director at WE Communication where she oversees the Corporate Reputation & Brand Purpose offering in the U.K. and is responsible for driving the function’s overall strategic direction and growth. Kemi works at the intersection of business and society, helping global clients across the UK business portfolio — from tech to health — to authentically communicate who they are and what they stand for. Kemi is a strong advocate of the role that the private sector can play in sustainable development, including through ESG, corporate social responsibility and purpose-driven strategies.
Shannon O'Shea is a Senior Vice President, Sustainability at WE Communications where she advises clients on effective communications and advocacy with their stakeholders regarding their environmental goals, activities and results. Before joining WE, Shannon spent nearly 21 years working with the United Nations as a senior advisor, where she led UNICEF's involvement in the consultation and negotiation processes that created the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She is passionate about creating a more equal, safe and sustainable world for all people and species and the planet, working across both the public and private spheres.
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