24 November, 2022 / Analysis

ESG Clarity’s (honest) guide to COP

By Natasha Turner

What actually is the Conference of the Parties and what has it achieved?

ESG Clarity’s (honest) guide to COP

What is COP?

Conference of the Parties, or COP for short, is the annual meet-up for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where, as of this year, 198 participating nations come together to try to agree on policies and commitments for tackling climate change. Representatives from these nations attend as delegates and sit through negotiations and discussions, but people from businesses, NGOs, researchers and scientists, the media and other organisations can also attend as observers and press.

How long has it been running?

The UNFCCC was established at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 when global co-operation was beginning to emerge, creating an arguably receptive environment for worldwide awareness of climate change, which scientists had been raising their concerns about since the 1970s.

Formalising these aims, the first COP was officially held in Germany in 1995, establishing the Berlin Mandate. It has run almost every year since, with the Paris Agreement, signed by 196 parties at COP21 in 2015 and coming into force just before COP22, marking an important turning point for paving the way for mobilising private capital for climate change prevention.

But as Nazmeera Moola, chief sustainability officer at Ninety One, told ESG Clarity at COP27 this year, COP26 in Glasgow last year “was the first time the finance sector pitched up at COP in size. It was the first time the US treasury secretary had ever been to a COP, so it was about the pledges as it was the largest quantum of capital being committed to fighting climate change”.

What has it achieved?

Arguably not much, considering it has been held 27 times and global temperatures are poised to hurtle past 1.5C. Much like we’ve seen at this year’s ‘implementation COP’, where discussions focused on how to put into practice last year’s commitments, COP 22, 23 and 24 were very much focused on how to put the Paris Agreement into place. For many, however, COP has become more about the side events – campaigns, product launches, report results, panel discussions and more – which are now scheduled around the COP calendar.

What’s it like?

This makes the conference a hectic affair. ESG Clarity has reported from the ground at two COPs – Glasgow and Sharm el-Sheikh – in the four years the publication has been running, covering live high-level announcements, but also investment industry side events and reaction.

With the high-level negotiations squirrelled away in parts of the blue zone, many observers are confined to stalls in the pavilions (areas of the blue and green zone – the ‘civil society’ area – that can be bought up to hold events) with many protestors and other key climate voices restricted access even to these.

This, coupled with debate over who is awarded sponsorship, has naturally led to cynicism. As one person tweeted in response to an ESG Clarity EU Committee member on social media: “Way too much at the fringes, which is swamping all the substance. It should be neither a festival for sustainability, nor a revenue opportunity for tourist resorts out of season, nor an excuse for yet more Ted talks – and absolutely not a selfie-opp.”

A festival is a fairly accurate description of the atmosphere this year – our video editor likened it to “a big festival without the music”. This pretty well encapsulates the chaos, confusion, exhilaration, double-booking and subsequent FOMO, the sleep deprivation and the chance encounters with people from all over the world doing all sorts of important work (look out for an upcoming article on ESG Clarity Intelligence from a US student running an investment club at his college that the ESG Clarity team met on a COP27 bus). Whether this ‘festival’ can continue in this manner remains to be seen.

Read more in ESG Clarity’s November 2022 digital magazine.

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