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COP27, responsibility, and an (actual) turning point

COP27, responsibility, and an (actual) turning point

What ‘loss and damage’ means for us, and you.

In 2019, Dutch historian Rutger Bregman found fame at Davos with an impassioned (but abundantly sensible) calling out of the hypocrisy of big events where important people rub shoulders with other important people, lots of words are spoken. And then absolutely nothing happens. 

The issue in question was taxes. “It feels like I’m at a firefighters conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water, right?” Bregman said. “Just stop talking about philanthropy and start talking about taxes. We can invite Bono once more, but we’ve got to be talking about taxes. That’s it. Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit in my opinion.”

Bregman was absolutely right of course, and his response is still circling around the internet. Tellingly, he wasn’t invited back… This set the tone for the type of conference that Davos was (or is). Lots of talk, networking, validation, helicopters, mission statements, swanky lunches - very little action. Many of us lost faith.

Last week, it was COP’s turn. The sustainability community looked on sceptically (but with a cautious tinge of hope).

COP27 is a coming together (lit. Conference of the Parties) held in Sharm el-Sheikh in coastal Egypt. This was the 27th of its kind, and brought together representatives from over 100 governments, numerous heads of state, and more than 35,000 participants. Typically, COP also ends with a scattering of empty promises or vague affirmations from ‘haves’ to the ‘have nots’. Bingo phrases like: ‘Someone really must do something…’, ‘we’re in this together…’, and ‘this is a turning point’.

It seems, however, that COP27 may have delivered. 

Delegates negotiated hard, around the clock, and an agreement was reached at 7am (36 hours past the Friday night deadline). Apparently it was a ‘night marked by stark division and harsh words between the rich and the poor’. The output? A ‘loss and damage fund’.

A loss and damage fund is based on an acceptance that ‘human-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense extreme events, has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people beyond natural climate variability. Some development and adaptation efforts have reduced vulnerability, but the rise in weather and climate extremes has led to some irreversible impacts as natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt’.

The important bit? This loss and damage impacts more in poorer, developing countries which are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. The rich world's effects are more ubiquitous than we’re willing to admit, responsibility has to be taken. It seems it has.

For me, Sherry Rehman – climate change minister of Pakistan (where suffering in record floods in September became emblematic of the devastation developing countries are facing) summed it up best: “This is not about accepting charity, this is a down payment on investment in our futures, and in climate justice.”

That’s just what it is. Investment, not charity. Justice, not a favour. Taking responsibility. And it should be seen as such. It’s almost 2023, and globally we’re all connected - if one domino falls, we’re all going to suffer..

For those of us on the commercial side of sustainability, this has the potential to spark a change. If world governments can admit that they’re responsible for the negative effects of their operations, the businesses will have to, too. No more just offsetting carbon and making no operational changes, no more campaigning for workers rights at the same time as exploiting their labour, and no more passing the buck onto the next unwilling volunteer. One prescription of taking a good hard look in the mirror, and acting accordingly.

Over the next few months, the waves from the landmark COP ruling are likely to ripple out throughout the commercial world. More scrutiny is going to be applied to sustainability strategies and approaches. The holes in these efforts are going to be laid bare. Homework is going to be marked (and re-marked).

At Fox + Hare we know the value of both intention and action, and how to combine the two. We work with a whole range of clients <insert client list>, and have been helping them look to the future pragmatically when it comes to their sustainability efforts. We’re the kind of partner many are going to need over the next few months. Sooner rather than later.

If you’re interested in what the ripple effects from COP27 might be for your business, get in touch. We specialise in helping organisations identify, define, and apply the positive impact they have on the world, all the way from the boardroom, to the ends of your supply chains.