What took place at COP27, and what does it mean for business?

Published on : 11/22/22
  • Sodexo’s Director of Corporate Responsibility, Claire Atkins Morris, gives her thoughts on COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh and explains the importance of avoiding the dangerous impacts beyond a 1.5°C rise in global temperature.

    Over two weeks of events, speeches and meetings that continued late into the weekend, 45,000 people attended COP27. Even within the current geopolitical backdrop, I am comforted that leaders across the world attend and are willing to talk and collaborate on the climate crisis. But where 2021’s Glasgow conference had a real buzz due to people’s excitement at being able to meet again, and the then UK government’s strong advocacy for Net Zero, this year had a decidedly different feel.  

    COP27 has been called the Implementation COP or Africa's COP. This is important because Africa is particularly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change but is only responsible for 4% of worldwide emissions.  

    What I believe this conference will be remembered for is its breakthrough agreement on a loss and damage fund for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters. While this has been seen as a momentous step forward for developing countries, the question remains of how this can be turned into a reality. The logistics and approach remain to be defined and will be ongoing in the build-up to COP28 in the UAE. 

    As reflected by COP26 President Alok Sharma’s remarks at the closing plenary, more disappointing has been the lack of fresh commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends that greenhouse gas emissions are cut 45% by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5°C. COP26 coined the phrase keeping 1.5 alive, and we’ve seen that continue into COP27, so it’s such a blow that this hasn’t been reflected in tangible outcomes. 

    The 2015 Paris Agreement saw countries around the world aim to limit the average global temperature increase to 1.5°C above preindustrial times. As a general indicator, anything above this is seen as the tipping point at which climate impacts go from destructive to catastrophic. 

    Already this year, we’ve seen the impacts of climate change on countries worldwide, and we currently stand at a 1.1°C. Imagine the catastrophic effects of passing the 1.5°C threshold. That’s why more and more businesses are factoring in the physical and transitional risks of climate change into their financial planning. 

    I recently read an incredibly concerning prediction from the UNFCCC, which states that even if we implemented the current pledges by national governments, the world would be on track for a 2.5°C increase by the end of the century. 

    It showcases how we will all have a role to play in the years to come.  

    The connection between food waste and carbon emissions is starting to be recognised.  

    While food systems and food waste are certainly not the headline acts, this topic bubbled up continually on the side-lines, despite not being officially on the agenda.  

    As a business that serves one million meals a day, this issue is particularly close to our hearts. Last year, we published our Appetite for Action Report in the immediate aftermath of COP26, detailing our efforts to drive sustainable practices in food service procurement to help cut food waste. The content remains as relevant today as it was then.  

    What does all this mean for business? Not all net zero commitments are equal. 

    At COP27, the UN Secretary General's high-level expert group on net zero commitments published a report that serves as a how-to guide on ensuring credible net zero commitments by industry financial institutions, cities and regions.  

    A key takeaway from this report is that it recognised not all net zero commitments are created equal. It outlines that there should be zero tolerance for net zero greenwashing. 

    In brief: 

    1. Environmental credibility: Net zero commitments should align with the science and must cover all three scopes of greenhouse emissions (direct, indirect, including entire supply chain emissions).  

    1. Decarbonisation: Businesses should have concrete actions and robust transition plans that state how they will get to net zero. It outlines decarbonisation as the primary approach being mindful of the voluntary market around carbon offsets needing greater transparency and rigour.  

    1. Governments need to provide an environment where voluntary initiatives become the new normal. Regulation, policy drivers and incentives to drive a market where all businesses have a net zero commitment. The Procurement Policy Note PPN 06/21 is one such example in the UK; this ensures that for certain public sector contracts, businesses wishing to tender for services have a net zero commitment in place and a corresponding carbon reduction plan.   

    A note to end on 

    Over the next coming days, weeks, and months there will be much digestion and many opinions about the information coming out from COP27.   

    As the first food services company to have our near and long-term targets validated by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), I would recommend businesses read the report highlighted above and consider external validation through the SBTi. 

    At Sodexo, we're keeping an eye on the long game and don't plan on taking a backseat as regards our sustainability requirements. There’s always more to be done, but I know we’re on the right path to meaningful change.  

    Climate change remains our most significant crisis; Net Zero must remain a priority.