COP28: Progress, Challenges, and Next Steps

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The 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (or COP28) took place at the end of 2023 in one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world – the UAE. The event brought together nations, leaders, and climate experts to unite around tangible climate action and deliver realistic solutions.

COP28 marked a watershed moment in the global effort to fight climate change because it concluded the first Global Stocktake – a routine assessment of progress under the Paris Agreement that occurs every five years. It is clear that we are not on track to meet the agreement’s goals, but the decisions and actions taken during COP28 can redefine the trajectory of climate action.

COP27: Laying the Foundation

COP27 laid the groundwork for this year’s conference. The summit focused on mitigation, adaptation, finance, and collaboration. The key outcomes of COP27 included the creation of the loss and damage fund, new pledges to the Adaptation Fund, and advancements in the Santiago Network focused on technical support for climate-affected regions. The conference also saw progress on the Global Stocktake and formal recognition of new issues such as water, food security, and forests within climate deliberations.

However, there was widespread criticism for failing to live up to the urgency of impending climate crisis. Despite being called the “implementation COP”, nothing decisive was done to ensure global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees celsius.

COP28: Milestones

Launching the first-ever Global Stocktake. The Global Stocktake was the spotlight of this year’s event and covered various climate issues, including energy, transport, and nature. Despite strong opposition from Oil & Gas interests, negotiators secured an agreement indicating the start of the end of the fossil fuel era – a much-needed conclusion to the hottest year in history. The next global assessment of Paris Agreement targets is expected to take place at COP33 in 2028.

Supporting sustainable agriculture. A landmark declaration on sustainable agriculture was adopted to address climate-related threats to global food systems. Signed by 160 countries, the declaration pledged a collective commitment by participating nations to expedite the integration of agriculture and food systems into national climate actions by 2025. For the first time ever, the summit also featured an entire day devoted to food and agriculture and saw a food systems roadmap laid out by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Operationalising the “Loss and Damage” fund. The conference saw the approval of the “loss and damage fund” that was first tabled at COP27 last year. The fund has been a long-requested support for developing nations facing the impact of climate change.

Tripling renewables and doubling energy efficiency by 2030. 118 countries signed a renewable energy pledge to triple the world’s green energy capacity to 11,000 GW by 2030, reducing the reliance on fossil fuels in generating energy. The pledge is expected to see global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements from around 2% to over 4% every year until 2030. While the pledge spearheaded by the EU, the US, and the UAE is not legally binding, it is a step in the right direction.  

Adapting to a warmer world. COP28 provided a framework for the ‘Global Goal on Adaptation’ to guide countries in their efforts to protect their people and ecosystems from climate change. An explicit 2030 date has been integrated into the text for targets on water security, ecosystem restoration, health, climate-resilient food systems, resilient human settlements, reduction of poverty, and protection of tangible cultural heritage.

Addressing methane. Methane took centre stage at COP28, reflecting its significant role in current global warming. US, Canada, Brazil, and Egypt announced more than USD 1 billion in funding to reduce methane emissions. Despite facing political challenges, these measures signify a shift towards concrete regulatory and pricing tools, marking a step forward in addressing methane’s impact on climate protection.

How COP28 Could Have Been More Impactful

Better funding allocations. Although the “loss and damage” funding agreement seems like a major outcome, the actual financial commitments fell far short. US and China, despite being the world’s largest emitters, extended only USD 17.5 million and USD 10 million to the fund, respectively. There is also debate about how funds should be distributed, with mature countries favouring aid allocation based on vulnerability. This approach might exclude middle-income countries that have suffered significant climate-related damage recently.

More focus on AI. While COP28 tackled critical climate issues, it overlooked a significant concern – the environmental impact of AI. While AI holds promise for improved sustainability, it is important to address the environmental consequences of AI model training and deployment. The absence of scrutiny on the ecological impact of AI represents a missed early opportunity, considering the widespread hype and significant investments in the technology.

Recognising climate refugees. The increase in climate-related displacement is a growing concern, with millions already affected and predictions of a significant rise by 2050. International law does not recognise those displaced by climate events as refugees. Despite this, the topic wasn’t adequately explored at COP28, highlighting the need for inclusive discussions and solutions for safe migration pathways.

A Call for Unified Action

While COP28 and similar forums highlight the severity of the climate crisis, the real power lies in continuous collective conversations that identify gaps, strive to bridge them, and drive meaningful change. Ecosystm, in collaboration with partners Kyndryl and Microsoft, conducted a Global Sustainability Barometer study, that reveals that while 85% of global organisations acknowledge the strategic importance of sustainability goals, only 16% have successfully integrated sustainability into their corporate and transformation strategies with tangible data.

While governments and policy makers continue to focus on building a sustainable future for the planet, this is time for a shift in mindset and action is pivotal for a unified global effort in addressing climate challenges and building a sustainable future – from organisations and individuals alike.  

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Future of the Sustainable Organisation: Top 5 ESG Trends in 2024

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The UN’s global stocktake synthesis report underscores the need for significant efforts to meet the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement to keep the global warming limit to 1.5ºC, compared to pre-industrial levels. Achieving this requires collective action from governments, organisations, and individuals.

While regulators focus on mandates, organisations today are being influenced more by individual responsibility for positive impact. Customers and employees are leading ESG actions – another fast-emerging voice driving ESG initiatives are value chain partners looking to build sustainable supply chains.

Ecosystm Predicst: Top 5 ESG Trends in 2024. Most Vocal Advocates of ESG.

Ecosystm research reveals that only 27% of organisations worldwide currently view ESG as a strategic imperative, yet we anticipate rapid change in the landscape.

Click below to find out what Ecosystm analysts Gerald Mackenzie, Kaushik Ghatak, Peter Carr and Sash Mukherjee consider the top 5 ESG trends that will shape organisations’ sustainability roadmaps in 2024.

Click here to download ‘Ecosystm Predicts: Top 5 ESG Trends in 2024’ as a PDF.

#1 Organisations Will Evolve ESG Strategies from Compliance to Customer & Brand Value

Many of the organisations that we talk to have framed their ESG strategy and roadmaps primarily in relation to compliance and regulatory standards that they need to meet, e.g. in relation to emissions reporting and reduction, or in verifying that their supply chains are free from Modern Slavery.

However, organisations that are more mature in their journeys have realised that ESG is quickly becoming a strategic differentiator and compliance is only the start of their sustainability journey.

Customers, employees, and investors are increasingly selective about the brands they want to associate with and expect them to have a purpose and values that are aligned with their own. 

Ecosystm Predicst: Top 5 ESG Trends in 2024. Organisations Will Evolve ESG Strategies from Compliance to Customer & Brand Value.

#2 Sustainability Will Remain a Stepping-Stone to Full ESG

Heading into 2024, the corporate continues to navigate the nuances between Sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives. Sustainability, focused on environmental stewardship, is a common starting point for corporate responsibility, offering measurable goals for a solid foundation.

Yet, the transition to comprehensive ESG, which includes broader social and governance issues alongside environmental concerns, demands broader scope and deeper capabilities, shifting from quantitative to qualitative measures. The trend of merging sustainability with ESG risks is blurring distinct objectives, potentially complicating reporting and compliance, and causing confusion in the market. Nevertheless, this conflation ultimately paves the way for more integrated, holistic corporate strategies.

By aligning sustainability efforts with wider ESG goals, companies will develop more comprehensive solutions that address the entire spectrum of corporate responsibility.

#3 ESG Consulting Will Grow – Till Industry Templates Take Over

At the end of 2022, LinkedIn buzzed with announcements of Chief Sustainability Officer appointments. However, the Global Sustainability Barometer Study reveals that only around one-third of global organisations have a dedicated sustainability lead. What changed?

Organisations have recognised that ESG is intricate, requiring a comprehensive focus and a capable team, not just a sustainability leader.

Each organisation’s path to sustainability is unique, shaped by factors like size, industry, location, stakeholders, culture, and values. Successfully integrating ESG requires a nuanced understanding of an organisation’s barriers, opportunities, and risks, making it challenging to navigate the sustainability journey alone. This is complicated by the absence of clear government/industry mandates and guidelines that frame best practices.

Ecosystm Predicst: Top 5 ESG Trends in 2024. ESG Consulting Will Grow – Till Industry Templates Take Over.

#4 Sustainability Tech Will Finally Gain Traction

Many organisations initiate sustainability journeys with promises and general  strategies. While the role of technology in accelerating goals is recognised, alignment has been lacking. In 2024 sustainability tech will gain traction.

Environmental Tech. Improved sensors and analytics will enhance monitoring of air and water quality, carbon footprint, biodiversity, and climate patterns.

Carbon-Neutral Transportation. Advancements in electric and hydrogen vehicles, batteries, and clean mobility infrastructure will persist.

Circular Economy. Innovations like reverse logistics and product lifecycle tracking will help reduce waste and extend product/material life.

Smart Grids and Renewable Energy. Smart grid tech and new solutions for renewable energy integration will improve energy distribution.

Ecosystm Predicst: Top 5 ESG Trends in 2024. Sustainability Tech Will Finally Gain Traction

#5 Cleantech Innovation Will See Increased Funding

Cleantech is the innovation that is driving our adaptation to climate change. We expect that investments into, and the pace of innovation and adoption of Cleantech will accelerate into 2024.

As companies commit to their net-zero targets, the need to operationalise the technologies required to fuel this transition becomes all the more urgent.  BloombergNEF reported that for Europe alone, nearly USD 220 billion was invested in Cleantech in 2022.

But to meet net-zero ambitions, annual investments in Cleantech will need to triple over the rest of this decade and quadruple in the next.

Ecosystm Predicst: Top 5 ESG Trends in 2024. Cleantech Innovation Will See Increased Funding.
Ecosystm Predicts 2024
Eyes on COP28: Shaping the Direction of Global Climate Policy

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Climate summits have attempted to reach a consensus and firm international agreements on emission reduction strategies. However, countries continue to lag behind in the climate promises – many do not back their ambitious targets with real, measurable steps. 

With the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) on the horizon, the world’s attention is fixed on how the conference can operationalise climate outcomes. 

Read on to find out about the pivotal discussions and potential breakthroughs that COP28 holds in the global fight against environmental change.

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Download ‘Eyes on COP28: Shaping the Direction of Global Climate Policy’ as a PDF.

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COP27: The Journey Towards a Sustainable Planet Continues

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The recently concluded 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) brought together Heads of State, ministers and negotiators, climate activists, mayors, civil society representatives, and CEOs in Egypt’s city of Sharm el-Sheikh to discuss climate action. The conference aimed to build on the outcomes of COP26 to effectively tackle the current climate emergency and set goals for the future.

Where COP26 Left Off

Before we look at COP27, here’s a look at what COP26 committed to and what the progress has been. The conference had ended on an ambitious note with a slew of climate plans and pledges undertaken by countries for the upcoming decades. In addition, all countries agreed to come back to COP27 with stronger, more focused climate plans of actions. The event saw 141 countries promise to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. As part of the Paris Agreement, 151 countries updated their nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Over 100 countries also signed the Global Methane Pledge to cut their collective methane emissions by 30% by 2030. The Glasgow Climate Pact was released at the end of COP26, which highlighted the need to phase out coal. During the conference, the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) committed over USD 130 trillion in private capital towards achieving net-zero goals.

However, climate activists pointed out that there were some missed points:

  • Ocean crisis was not addressed
  • The progress on Climate Change Policy was hindered due to a lack of gender equality
  • There was a lack of agreement on loss and damage finance from mature economies to emerging economies facing wide-scale destruction of life and property due to extreme weather events
  • While many countries did set long-term goals, there was a lack of short-term targets for 2030

COP27 Continues to Pave the Path Ahead

Despite a lot of commitments being made during the previous conferences, not a lot of those targets were met. This year, one of the crucial focus points was the implementation of existing targets instead of setting new goals. The top themes at COP27 were climate finance, adaptation, loss and damage, and increased ambition.

Loss and Damage. In a first, ‘loss and damage’ was made a part of the provisional agenda of discussion on matters relating to finance. Smaller nations called for a treaty against fossil fuels, and a global tax on corporations’ profits from fossil fuels. Countries, including Austria, Germany, Belgium, and New Zealand, promised funds to emerging economies to help them with the loss and damage caused by activities undertaken by mature economies.

Adaptation. COP27 President Sameh Shoukry launched the Sharm El-Sheikh Adaptation Agenda, which outlines 30 adaptation outcomes that, if completed by 2030, will positively impact about four billion people in lesser developed areas in the world. UN secretary-general António Guterres also addressed the conference and suggested a universal early warning system for five years. In addition, the UN Human Rights and Right Here, Right Now launched the Human Rights Climate Commitments (HRCC) which is an initiative for rights-based climate action.

Accountability. Apart from this, discussions to highlight how greenwashing and weak net zero pledges are threatening to undermine global efforts were held. Global securities regulators called for a closer review of carbon trading to prevent greenwashing by companies to offset their emissions. This has led to a need for transparency and holding organisations accountable for net zero goals as well as establishing clear regulations and standards.

Other key areas of discussions focused on integrating renewable energy and bringing better energy solutions that cater to diverse countries and requirements and the Ukraine war and its impact on the Middle East and Africa. The COP27 agenda this year focused on various topics around finance, resilience, industry, land use, water, energy, and transport to create a sustainable planet.

Future Expectations

With several successful conferences behind us, the world wants more focused implementations and lesser conversations. Here are some of the future expectations:

  • Emerging economies want to see ‘loss and damage’ a part of long-term climate agendas.
  • As extreme weather conditions continue, concrete short-term plans to deal with the water and soil crisis are just as important as long-term ones.
  • More collaborations are required between governments, corporates, investors, and society for new solutions and innovations.
  • Corporates need to commit more to funding sustainable projects, invest in sustainable technology, and actually, reduce their carbon footprint.
  • With today’s unpredictable times, policies need to be framed such that they can easily be amended and adapted to ensure that there is no pause or stop when implementing them.

The need of the hour is to address implementation blocks, facilitate conversations for funding and partnerships, and simple policies that are realistic – especially if 2030 and 2050 targets are to be met.  

Achieving Sustainability: The Tide is Turning

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In this blog, our guest author HE Jo Tyndall, delivers a message of hope for the future and talks about initiatives across all levels to combat climate change and biodiversity loss. “The pieces of the puzzle that will create a sustainable future are all there – it is time to start fitting them together.”

If, like me, you have watched Sir David Attenborough’s “witness statement” (A Life On Our Planet), it is easy to despair of the wanton, wilful destruction humanity has wreaked on the Earth, and to be horrified that so much of this has happened in one man’s (admittedly long) lifetime. The images he conjures – of distressed orangutans, starving polar bears, floods, fires and droughts, and of rampant deforestation – underscore how ubiquitous, urgent and overwhelming the climate change and biodiversity crises are.

But Sir David ends with a message of hope, and it is this I want to emphasise. Everywhere we look, there are green shoots of hope, many growing into sturdy saplings. They are coming thick and fast, and they are becoming mainstream – no longer relegated to the tick-box margins of policy or practice. The pieces of the puzzle that will create a sustainable future are all there – it is time to start fitting them together.

Political Signals Create a Ripple Effect

First, and foremost, in 2015 we got the Paris Agreement (and subsequently its rulebook). This was no mean feat. It set climate goals, gave us global rules for being transparent and accountable, and put governments on a path of continuous improvement to reach those collective goals. It is easy to dismiss global treaties as just words on paper, but this is to ignore the profound ripple effect those words have already had. (The Agreement held firm despite the US withdrawal – but the fillip when it re-joins will be welcome.)  

The political signals set the first ripples off as governments needed climate policies to meet their Paris undertakings. The European Green Deal aims for a sustainable EU economy, with no net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, decoupling economic growth from resource use. The UK will host next year’s UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) – and has doubled its climate finance for the period 2021-2025.

In September this year, China – the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases – announced it would achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Japan and Korea, too, have upped their mid-century targets to bring net emissions to zero.  

The New Zealand Government has set a legislated goal for the country to be carbon neutral by 2050; has amended our Emissions Trading System (ETS) to ensure price signals encourage a move to low carbon; set up a green investment fund; invested heavily in research into reducing emissions from livestock production; and, most recently, made carbon-related financial disclosures mandatory for specified companies, banks, insurers and investment managers. We have also made it our mission to encourage governments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies (some US$400bn each year) that promote excessive consumption.  

The Ripples Reach Cities and Businesses…

The political signals have flowed through to regional and local government. The C40 group (cities around the world working towards sustainability goals) now has 96 participating members – with many cities finding opportunities to collaborate with others in the network on joint projects.

It is becoming obvious that fossil fuel industries are at a disadvantage against increasingly cost-competitive renewable energy. Governments are working out how to manage a ‘just transition’ for the energy sector, while forward-leaning energy companies are re-shaping their business models in anticipation of a low carbon future.

Political signals encourage businesses to factor climate change into their planning and investment decisions. Businesses everywhere have read the political tea leaves and we see weekly announcements of pledges for carbon neutrality, ethical investing, green financing and so on. Whether it is Blackrock or NZ Super Fund making environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations integral to their investments, or Ikea’s IWAY (its ESG code of conduct for itself and its suppliers), business is showing a deeper commitment to sustainability than ever before. 

Some industries will have to be more invested than others in emissions reduction, but this opens a world of opportunity and innovation. Energy & Utilities companies are implementing waste-to-energy solutions – Singapore’s Integrated Waste Management Facility (IWMF) is set to be the world’s largest energy recovery facility – and adoption of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) facilities is at last gathering momentum across energy systems. Industries like aviation and maritime, too, have to play a key role in a circular economy.

… And Individuals (the Last – and First – Pieces of the Puzzle)

The ripples have spread to individuals – people like you and me. I know there are still plenty of climate deniers around. But mindsets are changing – and when that happens, the ripples become a tidal wave of real change. If we each start thinking we can do it and we will do it, the change will happen. If we make it clear, in our preferences as consumers, and in our expectations of the businesses we buy from or invest in, the change will happen.

The numbers who recognise we must live within our planetary boundaries are growing, values are changing (especially in light of the pandemic), and our low-carbon future is a high-tech one – not hemp shirts and home-made candles (unless of course these are your thing). Digital is a critical part of the story. Blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) is being used to cater to a new generation of consumers, conscious of buying what is good for the world in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss. Food products are being branded using track-and-trace capabilities of Blockchain for ‘farm to fork’ visibility. 

Who doesn’t want to breathe clean air, have lower energy bills, and eat safe and healthy food? Maybe we will see more initiatives like America’s Pledge, bringing together an entire ecosystem committed to fighting climate change, growing the economy, and protecting public health – an ecosystem of states, cities, businesses, universities, and citizens.

We now have the rules, the policy tools, the technologies, and – increasingly – we have the will to act. As we re-build our economies, our businesses, and our lives, let us re-build better. So, I would echo Sir David Attenborough’s optimism – it is just that we do not have his (95 years) lifetime left to put things right.

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