Time to Take Stock

Andy Garraway, Senior Climate Policy Analyst at Risilience, insists that COPs are more than a talking shop and have been known to exceed expectations.

At COP26 in Glasgow, Andy Garraway was a member of MP Alok Sharma’s Presidency team working on the negotiation strategy, requiring him to drill down into the geopolitical dynamics of multiple countries to better understand how they may wish to leverage their positions at the summit.  

This experience, alongside his current role as Senior Policy Analyst at analytics platform Risilience, gives him a unique insight into what to expect from COP28 in Dubai, where the Global Stocktake will either see countries make bold policy commitments or become an information-sharing exercise resulting in broad, unactionable recommendations.  

On the agenda 

One thing for certain is that food systems emissions will be firmly on the menu in November. It was placed there when United Arab Emirates (UAE) Minister of Climate and Environment Mariam Almheiri launched the COP28 food and agriculture agenda at the UN Food Systems Summit, in recognition of the fact that tackling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the agri-food sector is vital to keeping the 1.5°C goal alive.  

“The food systems discussion is particularly intriguing,” Garraway tells ESG Investor, adding that COP27 drew attention to the agricultural industry’s important role in the transition, with COP28 poised to take things a step further by seeking to integrate the sector into the negotiations. 

At COP28, governments will be asked to sign a Food Systems Declaration, including the integration of agri-food emissions into nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and other national plans.  

However, pinpointing a concrete outcome to emerge from COP28 on the agri-food sector remains a challenge, says Garraway, with the only certainty a heightened awareness of the vital role food systems play within the intersection of climate and nature, which he admits will likely be a significant topic of discussion.  

A broader focus on nature is expected to take centre stage, he says, aligning with recent developments, including the launch of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) at the New York Climate Summit in September.  

“There’s a growing understanding and awareness that nature and climate are interconnected,” said Garraway. “It’s becoming increasingly clear that concentrating on one while neglecting the other is no longer tenable.” 

Speaking at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Forum on Green Finance and Investment 2023 on 3 October, Martha Rojas Urrego, Commissioner at the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, went further, underscoring the interconnectedness of water in tackling the climate and nature crises. 

“In addition to the ‘twin peaks’ of climate and nature, water should be a third,” said Rojas Urrego, noting her disappointment that water receives so little attention. 

Front and centre at COP28 will be the Global Stocktake, which Garraway says will be a pivotal technical and political reality at the forefront of attendees’ minds. To support governments in their decision-making process for the Global Stocktake the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) published this week a new synthesis report to serve as a blueprint.  

Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, said: “This report puts the cards on the table – except this is not a game. We know that we as the global community are not on track towards achieving the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement and that there is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future.” 

Garraway underscores the importance of the “business perspective” within the Global Stocktake at COP28 due to the UN Secretary-General’s Acceleration Agenda – launched in June – which focuses not solely on the responsibilities of countries in climate action but also on the roles of non-state actors, particularly businesses and cities.   

While there have been some positive strides regarding the development of net zero targets by non-state actors, the challenge, according to Garraway, lies in translating ambitious commitments into concrete actions that align with those goals. 

“This challenge could become even more complex if there is an increase in what is perceived as an acceptable level of mitigation ambition, such as achieving net zero emissions by 2050,” he says.  

“If this timeline shortens, it will pose challenges not only for countries but also for businesses. Gaining a deep understanding of the actions required and assessing their supply chains will be crucial.” 

Beyond the stocktake, a potentially positive aspect of discussions at COP28, Garraway says, pertains to the potential emphasis on phasing out unabated fossil fuels and expanding upon the language established at COP26 which initially addressed the phasing out of coal.  

Now, the focus is shifting towards the phasing out of other forms of fossil fuels, namely oil and gas, with this shift evident both from the stocktake discussions and the priorities of the incoming presidency, he says. In July, COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber called the phase down of fossil fuels “inevitable” in an interview with the Guardian but noted that such a move can only occur once renewable energy has reached sufficient capacity.  

Words to action 

The Global Stocktake process at COP28 is the first official assessment of the commitments made by countries and determine whether they are sufficient which, based on the UNFCCC’s latest synthesis and technical reports published earlier this year, supports the conclusion that efforts to tackle climate change are well and truly off track.  

“While it is widely acknowledged that these commitments fell short of what was needed, the formalised process within the structure of climate negotiations serves to recognise these existing gaps,” says Garraway, adding that the stocktake is a “valuable tool” for more ambitious countries to justify their desired levels of ambition, but admits that it might not compel countries that are inclined to “drag their heels” to take pick up the pace. 

Garraway notes that COP26 had a notable success on the climate mitigation front, with a strong focus on increasing ambition over the course of two years, despite the postponement caused by the pandemic. The hiatus caused by Covid-19 allowed for a “deeper understanding” of what other countries required to enhance their mitigation ambitions, he says.  

Al Jaber’s COP28 Presidency is emphasising mitigation once again, he says, with countries like the US taking significant steps by implementing policies that will lead to emissions reductions.  

However, even with these efforts, the progress is insufficient. “This highlights the challenge faced by national governments in justifying the need to increase mitigation ambition to their constituents,” he says. 

At the global level, leaders at the recent G20 summit and the UN General Assembly are all expressing the “right intentions”, says Garraway, urged by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres to enhance their mitigation ambitions as part of the acceleration agenda. Yet, countries have not unequivocally committed to increasing their NDCs and, therefore, there’s a notable gap between what countries are saying and what they are prepared to commit to in terms of increasing ambition.

Exceeding expectations 

Despite this evolution in climate awareness, the current rate of emissions growth and the uneven attempts to curb it mean that it is increasingly likely that global temperatures will exceed the 1.5°C target set by the Paris Agreement before 2040, according to UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) AR6 Synthesis report.

Confronted with this reality and, considering the controversies surrounding COP28, with critics raising eyebrows at the presidency being held by the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil company – the biggest oil producer in the country and the twelfth largest globally – the air of pessimism ahead of this year’s conference is forgivable.  

Garraway, however, considers himself a realist, acknowledging the challenges that each COP faces. He notes a recurring pattern ahead of each COP, where similar concerns are raised and the same challenges are presented. “Many perceive COP conferences as merely talk sessions without tangible outcomes. However, I believe they can be both shocking and productive.” 

The Paris Agreement, a significant milestone in climate action, he says, wouldn’t have been achieved without the COP process, while COP27 serves as an excellent example of exceeding expectations.  

“Despite low expectations and concerns about its location and protests, the outcome regarding the loss and damage fund was unexpectedly remarkable,” he says, demonstrating how these events can yield positive results even if they don’t meet everyone’s expectations. 

Nevertheless, he acknowledges that COP conferences consistently fall short of the urgency conveyed by scientific evidence. This discrepancy is largely due to the weight of political considerations, he says, with negotiations subject to the glare of public scrutiny.  

“Science dictates the need for more substantial action, but the conference’s pace is limited by the collective agreement of all participating countries,” he says.  

“This bureaucratic and process-driven nature of COP conferences may be frustrating, but it remains our primary avenue for addressing global climate challenges.” 

The heat is on 

Global temperatures hit record-breaking levels this summer and climate change continues to drive shift in weather patterns, resulting in droughts and floods impacting everything from food production to human health.  

“We have traditionally viewed climate change as a mid-term issue, something that will impact us in our lifetimes but doesn’t require immediate concern,” says Garraway. However, this perspective is rapidly changing, he says, as the world witnesses’ real-time impacts, not only in regions closer to the equator, but also in less-expected places like Canada, where wildfires are occurring even before the peak of summer. 

According to Garraway, these events are prompting policymakers to recognise the importance of adaptation, shifting the focus away from solely mitigating the effects of climate change. But adaptation poses unique challenges, largely because it more directly affects people’s lives and livelihoods, he says, making it a more difficult political conversation. 

“This tension is evident in various contexts, from responses to fuel taxes to people refusing to evacuate during extreme weather events,” he says, noting that navigating this political landscape is essential to ensure that as many people as possible are on board with climate action, even before delving into the complex issues of climate justice and global responsibility for climate change, with financial consequences. 

Such challenges have led to political leaders such as UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak rowing back on his government’s policies to deliver in a legal commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Sunak’s u-turn on climate, included a decision to push back a 2030 deadline for the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2035, alongside a fresh round of North Sea drilling in attempt to “max out” the UK’s oil and gas reserves. The reverse comes amid the International Energy Agency (IEA) updating its ‘Net Zero by 2050’ blueprint for the fossil fuel sector’s transition, with the original version famously declaring that there was no justification for further oil and gas exploration beyond 2021.   

“It’s important to note that emissions continue to rise despite the urgency of reducing them during the 2020s, which has been considered a critical window of opportunity,” says Garraway, noting that each year, that window shrinks, making the necessary emissions reductions even steeper and more challenging. 

“Delaying action only exacerbates the problem, and the perceived short-term benefits, as framed by the [Sunak], don’t align with economic realities,” he says. “Passing the burden to consumers, as a political choice, means they will face greater exposure to volatile fossil fuel markets and increased heating costs.” 

Addressing climate change involves making political decisions about who bears the cost, he says, and placing the burden on consumers is one such choice.  

“This narrative is driven by a desire to provide political cover for these decisions, but it has long-term implications for both the economy and the environment.”

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