With COP27 over, policy minds at home have turned to the fallout, reactions and opportunities the conference posed. Among such minds the government’s official climate advisors, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), have released their verdict. What do they say?
Targets not matched by ambitions
The CCC’s first major takeaway is that as was the case after COP26, implementation and delivery remain key global challenges.
Net zero targets in particular need greater transparency and accountability over their delivery if they are to be valuable and seen as credible. This is true at national level, for multilateral initiatives and for companies. Quality guidance, regulations and standards are likely to be needed to improve integrity and transparency.
Crucially, The CCC also says COP27 made little progress on the advances in ambition made at COP26 a year ago. If delivered in full, these could limit warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.
However, actions to back these targets remain limited: assessments of present policies suggest these would lead to much higher warming of around 2.5-2.7°C by the end of the century.
So all in all, there’s a very clear message. Not enough is being done, nor being done with haste, to mitigate worsening climate damage. In the UK, our net zero headline messaging and actual policy are the ideal tools to change things for the better.
But for now, these stand liable to accusations of weakness and greenwash, especially if government continues to open new oil fields and allow the North Sea a wider role in the UK’s energy portfolio. The CCC’s core thinking is we must up our game.
Is the UK a true international player?
The CCC also notes that the delayed 2030 Strategic Framework (the government’s vision for the UK’s long-term international role tackling climate change and biodiversity loss) is an opportunity to set out the UK’s leadership role in helping the world achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
There’s a clear hint here. Now COP27 is complete, the UK’s Presidency of the COP process has ended. The government’s own pages on the topic make this clear, saying the UK’s Presidency of COP26 made progress on each of its four goals of: mitigation (reducing emissions), adaptation (helping those already impacted by climate change), finance (enabling countries to deliver on their climate goals) and collaboration (working together to deliver even greater action).
The difference between the two players is the CCC doesn’t want action and ambition to falter post-Presidency, while government hints we’re doing enough. The CCC says at COP27, the UK negotiated as an individual party for the first time following departure from the EU.
‘The UK should continue to champion high climate ambition and the promising initiatives begun in Glasgow,’ the CCC continues. ‘The UK should also publish a full stocktake of these initiatives and ensure it defines its commitments under the pledges.’
All this is a polite way of saying just because the Presidency has ended does not mean the game is over. In fact, what’s required is a more solid reckoning on where the UK sits against the goals we ourselves created at Glasgow, and what’s to be done to improve progress.
Finance for the future
The CCC puts a big emphasis on solid cash. It argues that as a major finance centre and sponsor of the multilateral development banks, the UK should pay particular attention to its positions on mobilising finance, which are vital to global success on climate change, and how it contributes to future Just Energy Transition Partnerships.
No one should underestimate the challenge. Present levels of investment, says the CCC, need to be increased multiple times to finance low-carbon rollout at the scale and speed required to meet the Paris Agreement temperature goal.
The IEA’s 1.5ºC aligned Net Zero Emissions scenario estimates a need for annual clean-energy investment to triple by 2030 to $4.2 trillion per year, with around $2.4 trillion of this required for emerging and developing countries.
Both the UK government and financial institutions must increase efforts to reduce and share the risk associated with investments where needed and ensure lending options at a lower cost of capital are available in order to avoid delay in low-cost, high-impact energy transition projects.
The speed at which finance can be accessed should also be addressed, with long timelines and high administrative burdens also depressing the rate of progress.
The message is stark; much more money is needed, much faster, to meaningfully impact before time escapes us.
What the UK got right
The CCC isn’t totally damning; it argues that the recommunicated UK 2030 NDCs met some of the CCC’s 2022 Progress Report recommendations. Further; the UK government delivered a credible delivery plan to implement the transition to zero emissions vehicles.
However, the UK government should consider its domestic position on fossil fuels. The CCC has provided advice on how fossil fuels could feature in the UK’s decarbonisation pathways in its Sixth Carbon Budget advice on the compatibility (indeed lack of it) of new UK oil and gas fields.
The letter, to be candid; advised cutting fossil fuel consumption as quickly as possible through reducing demand. The CCC wants a tighter limit on production, stringent tests and a presumption against exploration.
The truth is the CCC is demanding more effort, faster. COP27 didn’t pull out the results required. Yet, we can go further alone, with the right will and political capital to do so