What you should know about the COP27 Climate Conference

Next week marks the 27th annual United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP27) on climate change. What has changed since last year's conference and what should we expect as delegates from UN member states gather in Egypt?

Siobhan Archer, Sustainable Investing Specialist

This year has seen governments face huge challenges, from an energy security crisis stemming from the Russia-Ukraine conflict, to a cost-of-living catastrophe and the highest inflation figures since the 1980s. Amid these challenges, we have also seen climate change impacting us at new levels: we faced temperatures of over 40 degrees in the UK this summer, and many countries face record levels of rainfall, with a third of Pakistan flooding in August. These events demonstrate the pressure we are under to make progress and changes towards a low-carbon world. As we look to tackle these substantial issues, it is clear that this meeting of UN member states brings with it a sense of urgency to step up on previous commitments and show leadership in this space.

What is COP?

The Conference of Parties on climate change is a conference that has been taking place annually since 1992, when delegates from the UN member states convened in Rio de Janeiro for the first Earth Summit. This key conference set up the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a body to coordinate further progress on climate change, thus establishing the annual COP format. Since then, 26 conferences have been held around the world, with delegates from the 193 UN Member states including politicians, statesmen and the occasional celebrity (Leonardo DiCaprio is a regular attendee).

What were the key COP years?

  • 1997: COP3 was the year the Kyoto Protocol was signed. The protocol was a binding treaty committing all countries to reduce greenhouse gas emission concentrations to "a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system." It was also the conference that recognised a number of greenhouse gases beyond carbon dioxide, such as nitrous oxide, methane and perfluorocarbons.
  • 2015: COP21 is arguably the year that the most important of the COP protocols was signed. Held in France, COP21 saw the signing of the Paris Agreement, a legally binding document in which all countries of the world agreed to heighten efforts to try and limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures.
  • 2021: COP26 in Glasgow was dubbed “The Finance COP”. It was the first year that investment managers and businesses pulled together and committed private sector capital to the fight on climate change. Our Head of Sustainable Investing Phoebe Stone was there, and recounts some of last year’s highlights in this video.

What is special about this year’s COP?

This year, in Egypt, the fifth such conference held on the African continent, COP is hoping to bring attention to the dramatic effects climate change is having on the world’s youngest continent, which accounts for 18% of the world’s population.

Sharm el Sheikh, the city where the conversations are being held, is a well-known tourist destination known for its beaches and abundant coral reef. However, against the backdrop of rising ocean temperatures and acidification due to the levels of CO2, the coral reef and marine life have taken a hit.

This year is also the last COP before the ‘Global Stocktake’ at COP28 in 2023, whereby scientists and members will assess global collective progress against the net-zero targets. Last year in Glasgow, while many countries committed to deliver stronger targets, only 23 out of 193 countries have actually submitted their new plans to the UN.

What can we expect from the UK this year?

Last year, the UK hosted COP26 in Glasgow. Ambitions were high and the Prime Minister at the time, Boris Johnson, spoke to world leaders at the conference opening. Johnson used fictional Scotsman, James Bond, to draw parallels between the danger of climate change and the explosive devices Bond is often strapped to. He called upon all governments to end deforestation, eliminate sales of combustion fuel engines, increase spending on renewable energies, end the use of coal power stations and, importantly, work with developing nations to secure fair pathways to a low-carbon world.

This appears in stark contrast to this year, with the current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak originally announcing he would not attend COP27. After sustained pressure, Sunak announced a U-turn on Wednesday that he would now be attending. This reluctance to attend is particularly troubling as the UK has not seen its finest moments on environmental progress this year. In July, the UK Government was successfully sued when the High Court found that the UK’s net-zero plans failed to meet their obligations under the Climate Change Act. Meanwhile, the ban on fracking was temporarily lifted under Liz Truss’s premiership and the New Land Management Scheme looking to subsidise farmers for regenerative farming was nearly overturned.

Our role as a wealth manager

In the fight against climate change, the private sector plays a crucial role: it is not only the responsibility of environmental regulations but also consumer-facing corporations that must call for action. This week, we are proud to announce that we have signed the Global Investor Statement to Governments on the Climate Crisis, calling for stronger action from countries on raising their ambition to limit global warming to 1.5°C and to focus on policies enabling climate-resilient investments. LGT has signed this alongside 603 investment managers, representing $42 trillion assets under management, as a way to amplify our voice and demands to governments.

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