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30/11/2023
5
min read

A climate wish list: what are the ideal outcomes from COP28 for any climate-focused investor?

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Roger Lewis
Roger Lewis

Head of Sustainability and Responsible Investing

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Sharing a birthday with the date the Paris Agreement on Climate Change was signed in 2015, the idea for this article was influenced by previous COPs and, in particular, their outcomes, agreements, protocols, statements, or even breakdowns.  

Copenhagen from 2009 comes to mind. Nicknamed ‘Hope-enhagen’ beforehand, it delivered nothing. And despite the other 27 previous COPs, none have achieved the simplest solution to climate change: commitments that legally bind a country, company, or community to reduce the emissions of six types of greenhouse gas. Given this, what would a birthday wish for COP28 outcomes look like?

In January, we predicted that energy and climate change would continue to be top themes this year for responsible investors, alongside greater regulatory focus on ESG, and nature emerging as a new topic. There has indeed been a focus on climate change policy, technology, spend, mitigation, and adaptation. But what of actual action to avoid the worst effects in the second half of this century?  

The deployment of current renewable energy technologies continues, led by solar and national-level targets and investment-level opportunities. It’s similar for wind with increasing capacity plans, and for batteries to complement renewables’ intermittency. Major power utilities are decarbonising with emissions reduction targets, green capex, lobbying, and disclosure. Big oil continues either researching or constructing facilities for carbon capture utilisation and storage, not least because this offers a future revenue source in a greener world.  

First wish-list item: easing regulation for renewable power

The counterweight to these encouraging developments is the threats that exist. Solving these would be the first wish-list item to come out of COP28. There are delays and problems in permitting for renewable installations and grid connectivity. This leads to the real risk that clean power generated is lost. Few countries can compete with the billions of green spend of the US’s Inflation Reduction Act, though they can still reduce administrative complexity for renewable power. An additional linked risk is the reversion to fossil fuels. The delicate balance for policymakers in Dubai in December is energy security, costs of living, and decarbonisation, which can lead to fickle attitudes towards gas and coal.

Second wish-list item: commitment to climate change targets

With a record hot June and then July past us, and stories of record-breaking extreme weather and temperatures continuing, limiting warming to 1.5 degrees is sadly looking less and less likely. Indeed these acute incidents remind us that 1.5 is an average global rise and some regions (read: Artic or Sahel) will be affected much more, and indeed likely already feel this. Is 1.7 degrees the new best case, and should COP28 recognise this? Probably. Making realism on targets – with renewed vigour and commitment – the second wish-list item.  

Third wish-list item: enabling growth of renewable energy

After hyped launches at the start of this decade, there have been setbacks to net zero carbon. Some investors, insurers, and banks have left their respective sectors’ commitments, like net zero asset managers. The mid-year progress update from the Climate Change Committee to help the UK government is prescient. It wants to see shifts towards actual implementation – including renewables, EVs, heat pumps, hydrogen, and carbon capture – in order to meet stated targets and the latest, sixth carbon budget. Whichever temperature target is agreed, or commitment is supported, or government sentiment is in force, climate change always returns to mitigation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And current – plus future – renewable power technologies play a central role in this. This makes a continuing commitment to enabling the renewable power sector’s growth the third item on the COP28 wish list.  

Fourth wish-list item: offsetting carbon

Adding a fourth and final item, related to net zero, is carbon offsets. What might a more mature market, catalysed by agreements at COP28, look like? Will there be no more scandals around verification or the rule of law or rule of property? Outlawing ‘carbon neutral’ claims, as the EU is pioneering for 2026, could be a big theme. And there could be further clarity on quality removal offsets with additionality like air capture, on working with suppliers under the so-called insetting, and on the ability of countries to trade offsets to meet their targets.  

What do future COPs have in store for us?

Looking ahead beyond this year’s COP28, we can certainly expect promises and progress towards these four items. Legally binding reduction targets – the biggest wish – are deliberately omitted here given the unlikelihood, but the Global Stocktake of countries’ nationally determined contributions will be a good test of the Paris Agreement’s logic of ‘name and shame’. The Global Decarbonisation Alliance announced in May is another positive indicator, helping item number two. But a credible, international framework that every single stakeholder commits to, that meets this small list plus the many more required commitments?  Now that’s something worth wishing for.

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