WEDNESDAY 9 NOV 2022 10:02 AM


COP27 is underway in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. With UN secretary-general António Guterres condemning "bogus net zero pledges" in a report from the summit, world leaders need to ensure this year's discussions amount to tangible change. Communications is the key to achieving this, says Charlie Morrow, director at Cognito’s London office.

As the world’s leaders descend on the coastal resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, the world is wondering whether this is a real chance to rescue the legacy of COP26.

Last year there was a bevy of announcements in Glasgow. A staggering $130 trillion was promised in private capital. Article 6 was approved, paving the way for international cooperation on how carbon markets deliver Nationally Determined Contributions. Commitments were made around methane, car emissions and forest preservation.

A year later, much of that progress seems to be fading.

The International Energy Agency reported that in 2021 emissions increased 6% as countries recovered from the pandemic and an energy crisis enveloped Europe. Fossil fuels are increasingly back on the menu as energy prices surge.

There are reports that pledged private capital for getting to net zero might be draining away. Banks are considering quitting the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), Mark Carney’s climate finance alliance of banks and asset managers representing 40% of the world’s financial assets which pledged to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. 

The global backdrop hasn’t helped. A major conflict in Europe, raging inflation and high energy prices mean that countries’ priorities are just not the same as where they were a year ago.

Record temperatures across Europe and Asia this summer and recent major flooding in Pakistan were reminders that progress cannot be allowed to stall. Clearly, a new approach is needed, and communications has a role to play.

The idea is that COP27 will be an implementation summit; creating a pathway to firmly putting the Paris Agreement into practice.

This year there needs to be greater attention on how to reduce the gap between targets and reality through tangible actions and solutions is expected to be a focus. This shift towards an emphasis on action came through in our research from earlier in the year, where media and comms people we spoke with focused on this precise issue. One editor said, “First there was a lot of focus on Net Zero commitments from corporates, now this needs to be focused on the practicalities of meeting these commitments”.

We identified a gap between the amount of media attention on the impact of climate change, versus the solutions that (while not in all cases are perfect) seek to address this change.

Going into COP this year, companies and governments need to focus on the “how”. This needs to resonate in communications activity with tangible examples, case studies and authentic insights that demonstrate the path to action. Society needs to understand how organisations seek to travel to reach this objective. Data that showcases progress, and tells a transparent and authentic story about changes, should be highlighted.

Organisations must look for opportunities to lead by example. A key issue on the agenda in Egypt will be the highly debated and crucial "loss and damage” funding. This will compensate developing countries, such as much of Africa and low-lying Pacific nations, which tend to bear the brunt of damage through climate change but release little emissions.

Denmark was recently the first central government to donate money to this cause, allocating 100 million Danish krone (£12million) to vulnerable countries. Last year, Scotland pledged £2m. As the Guardian pointed out at the time: this won’t touch the sides in terms of fixing the damage, but the symbolism is important.

Governments and companies have a duty not just to say what they plan to do. They have a duty to act. Talking about how they plan to do this, and laying out a clear pathway, is critical. Communicators have an important role to play in this process.

At stake is not just the credibility of the climate action movement, and large-scale ambitious policies like Biden’s climate bill and the EU’s Fit for 55 climate package, but something even more important than that.