Copping Out

7th November 2022

Erin LynchErin Lynch

COP27 is upon us. For the next two weeks, over 90 heads of state and 30,000 delegates from 190 countries will meet in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. The President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi hopes the meeting will ‘showcase unity against an existential threat we can only overcome through concerted action’. The summit is expected to focus on three main targets: reducing emissions, increasing countries’ resilience against climate change, and improving technical support for developing countries. It’s been billed as both the ‘Africa COP’ and the ‘Implementation COP’ and significant attention will be focused on the particular challenges and opportunities confronting the continent, as well as strategic plans for how to turn last year’s commitments into clear action. El-Sisi says COP26 will be the moment ‘when the world moves from negotiation to implementation’. We hope that’s true.

However this year has also seen the rise of ‘COP sceptics’ of various political and ideological persuasions. While Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is, in fact, attending after previously saying he ‘didn’t have time’, climate activist Greta Thunberg has also announced she will not attend this year. Why the scepticism?

Greta rejects Greenwashing

Speaking at the launch event for her new book at London’s Southbank Centre, Thunberg argued that ‘The COPS are mainly used as an opportunity for leaders and people in power to get attention, using many different kinds of greenwashing’.

Global Witness agrees. The NGO has identified a number of potential greenwashing tactics to look out for at COP27:

  • Natural gas as a low-carbon fuel — since natural gas is still, according to the IPCC, the third most carbon-intensive method of generating electricity, Global Witness argues that it should not be overstated as a potential source of energy.
  • Blue hydrogen — While hydrogen energy in general offers some exciting potential, by itself, it is not an adequate solution. Many hydrogen advocates intend to extract it by using fossil fuels.
  • Net zero — There is also very little regulation or standardisation as to what ‘net zero’ really is, which means that sometimes ‘net zero’ claims are little more than accounting trickery.
  • Nature-based solutions — a broad term that big polluters sometimes misuse to appear as if they’re doing something good.
  • Green finance — which some banks use while continuing to bankroll fossil fuels, and
  • Voluntary deforestation pledges — Global witness exposed a number of banks that supported environmentally destructive companies while still making deforestation pledges.

It is not fair to say that ‘deforestation pledges’ or ‘net zero’ are bad. The reality is that all of these ideas, as slogans, belie highly complex economic and environmental cost-benefit analyses. These calculations are not easy — especially as the world faces the twin catastrophes of climate crisis and the cost-of-living crisis. However, these slogans are sometimes misused by companies that want to appear better than they really are.

It makes sense. Young people are, in general, more ‘environmentally conscious’, and changing attitudes are driving businesses to either act differently, or at least say they’ll act differently. Gen Z and Millennials' interest in sustainability is driving consumer demand for more ethical and sustainable business practices, and businesses are responding. The question is whether these responses are genuine.

Human Rights at COP27

Thunberg had previously signed and promoted a petition by the COP27 Civic Space demanding that Egypt open civic space and release everyone arbitrarily detained in Egypt. The group argue that Egypt is undergoing a ‘deep-rooted’ human rights crisis, with the nation state employing ‘draconian laws’ on counter terrorism, cyber crimes, and civil society. Thunberg also visited a London sit-in by Mona and Sanaa Seif, sisters of the human rights blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah who has been on hunger strike for over 200 days in an Egyptian prison. El-Fattah has now stopped drinking water too and fears he could die before the conference is over.

Civil society actors seem conflicted about how far they should challenge Egypt for potential human rights abuses. Notably, Greenpeace International has refused to sign the Civic Space petition and has distanced itself from any further engagement.

It highlights an interesting debate between human rights and climate activism. To overcome climate change, we need political cooperation. But in doing so, must nation states tolerate or even collaborate with repressive regimes? There’s no easy answer.

Number 10’s Reluctant Attendance

In a different vein, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak shocked climate commentators by refusing to attend, and then backtracking on his refusal. Why the initial refusal? Downing Street said the Prime Minister had “other pressing domestic commitments including preparations for the autumn Budget’. Former Business Secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg defended the Prime Minister’s decision, taking to Twitter to say ‘The Prime Minister is right not to go to COP. The cost of living won’t be solved in Sharm el Sheikh where each hotel room for the conference is £2,000 a night.’ Sunak later took to Twitter to retract this position

It’s further alleged former Prime Minister Liz Truss asked ‘experienced climate diplomat’ King Charles not to attend, and Sunak left that request in place. No 10 maintains that the UN climate talks are not the ‘right occasion’ for the King to attend. Instead, the King will host a reception for ‘key COP27 figures’ at Buckingham Palace, bringing together industry and NGO players.  It remains to be seen whether this will change too.

Has anything changed since COP26?

Sunak speaks about ‘the legacy of Glasgow’. What exactly is that?

Worryingly, a United Nations report published in late October shows that the world is on track to increase emissions 10.6% by 2030. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says a 43% reduction in emissions by 2030 is needed to limit warming to 1.5 celsius above pre-Industrial temperatures. Simon Stiell, executive secretary of UN Climate Change said it was ‘disappointing’ that ‘only 24 new or updated climate plans’ have been submitted since COP26, despite the fact that all countries agreed at COP26 to revisit and strengthen their climate plans.

Still, those to upgrade include Indonesia, South Korea, and Australia. Brazil previously submitted a plan that allowed for higher emissions, but following the election victory by Lula, it’s expected the country might reverse this previous action. We anxiously await China’s revised target in 2023. China has thus far refused to improve its pledge. But we also can’t forget some positive changes, such as President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, the largest, most ambitious climate legislation ever passed by a US Congress.

The bare minimum we want from COP27 are serious commitments to measurable, ambitious goals. We’ll be back to see what was agreed shortly.

Good Tythings

Carbon Reduction

Carbon Reduction
  • The Clean Air Task Force just released a report on the potential of superhot rock geothermal energy as a source of ‘zero carbon’ energy. Superhot rock energy can be generated from dry rock that’s at least 400 celsius. This kind of rock can be found across the world at depths of 2 to 12 miles underground.
  • The European Commission just announced that it will table a ‘strategic vision’ for carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS) technologies next year. We will be curious to see how many of CATF’s proposals from the organisation’s European Carbon Capture and Storage Strategy roadmap get adopted.

Marine Conservation

Marine Conservation
  • For the past two years, Blue Marine Foundation has collaborated with Project Baseline, an organisation that mobilises citizen-divers to record change in the world’s underwater environments and engage with scientific, conservation, and government entities to advance the restoration and protection of the ocean. BMF and Project Baseline have been working on a project to better understand species distribution in the Berwickshire Marine Protected Area (MPA). Check out this documentary trailer to learn more.
  • The nation of Aotearoa New Zealand has joined growing calls for a moratorium on the destructive Deep Sea Mining industry. BMF have campaigned on this issue for years. It is critical timing just days ahead of the meeting of the International Seabed Authority Council in Jamaica.
  • Surfers Against Sewage just completed another ‘One Million Miles’ of beach clean, engaging over 263,748 volunteers to collect 738,494 kilos of rubbish.
  • Young people are to be ‘prescribed’ surfing and dancing as part of a new initiative by NHS mental health trusts. 600 people on NHS waiting lists for mental health care will be engaged in a study into whether ‘social prescribing’ can help improve mental wellbeing. If successful, the NHS may try and make similar initiatives available across the UK. Spokespeople have emphasised that these activities don’t replace traditional forms of support such as talking therapy, but according to a government funded assessment of a small-scale trial in 2018-2020, these activities can help young people’s personal and mental wellbeing and reduce loneliness.

Forest Conservation

Forest Conservation
  • A new striking looking toxic frog species from Ecuador has been named in honour of Seth MacFarlane, U.S. film and television creator, and long-time supporter of the Rainforest Trust. The frog was found as part of an expedition to catalogue and protect species in the Andes. The vibrant colours of the Hyloscirtus sethmacfarlanei are a warning sign of its toxicity. Ecuador’s forests are home to at least 600 known species of frogs, with more being discovered every year.
  • In an interesting cooperative approach to climate issues, Norway has agreed to pay $56 million to Indonesia to preserve vast tropical rainforests and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Climate Resilience

Climate Resilience
  • 2022 marks the 20th anniversary of Sand Dams Worldwide. To mark this special occasion, the organisation just released their 2021/2022 annual report.
    • In Southeast Kenya, the 48 dams they supported over the past year will provide over 22,000 people with safe water.
    • In Ethiopia, SDW provided over 2,000 people with water.
    • In Zimbabwe and Malawi, now over 6,000 people will have a dependable water supply. Communities were supported to plant over 29,000 trees using the water from their sand dams, with over 8 hectares of land regenerated with environmental protection measures.
  • As the energy crisis increasingly implicates us all, the importance of SolarAid’s goal of combating poverty and tackling climate change has never been more obvious. SolarAid is launching a new strategy to address the gap between households and communities who can’t afford current solar solutions. Despite the terrific work SolarAid has spearheaded, many schools and health facilities remain without electricity.
  • The new strategy is intended to reach the poorest and most remote communities. But it’s risky, and there are costs. When SolarAid started, it cost £20 to distribute a light. As the organisation scaled, it cost £3, but over the next three years this is projected to increase back up to £15 as SolarAid invests in innovation and enters into unfamiliar communities and countries.

Food & Agriculture

Food & Agriculture
  • Earlier in October, Sustainable Food Trust CEO Patrick Holden shared an open letter to Ranil Jayawardena, former Secretary of State for Defra to ask for a refreshed approach to the Environmental Land Management scheme in England. ELMs were introduced after Brexit to replace EU farming subsidy programmes and provide financial incentives for sustainable farming, as well as nature and landscape recovery initiatives focused on biodiversity. After Jayawardena opened a review of the policy, fears were prompted among lobby groups he might renege on environmental commitments. With a new Secretary of State (Therese Coffey) in power, many people involved in the agricultural sector eagerly await an update on ELMs.
  • Delegates from the Good Food Institute will be heading to Sharm El Sheikh next week for COP27. They will participate in the first ever #FoodSystemsPavillion, which will feature 11 days of programming on the critical role of transforming food systems and shifting to alternative proteins in climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience building.
  • Research from The Good Food Institute on the potential of Cultivated Meat as a tool in fighting antimicrobial resistance was just featured in Nature Food Journal. The study found that it’s highly likely that cultivated meat production at scale will require a tiny fraction of the antibiotics used in conventional animal agriculture.

Education & Advocacy

Education & Advocacy
  • Ambassadors from Action4Conservation joined the film premiere for ‘The Colour of Transformation’ a new film by Bryony Benge-Abbott that shares new perspectives on nature through the metaphor of butterfly metamorphosis. Benge-Abbott’s work is inspired by stories of ‘Global Majority’ women pioneers working in conservation, natural history, and the outdoors.
  • ClientEarth, along with Surfrider Foundation Europe and Zerowaste France is demanding McDonalds, Nestlé, and 7 other companies #DeplatisfyNow. ClientEarth and its allies have chosen these companies because their products and packaging represent the largest and most visible part of plastic pollution as well as vast amounts of hidden plastics in the transport, promotion, manufacture, and industrial processes associated with their creation. It’s claimed they’re currently failing to meet what French law asks of them.
  • ClientEarth has joined a complaint against Defra after the Government missed its legal deadline to introduce stronger targets on air and water quality, as well as nature and waste as part of the Environment Act.