The climate change debate: next stop – London

By Tim Le Couilliard

The climate change conference circuit ahead of COP27 is in full flow. These frequent gatherings bring together key players to cover a bewildering range of complex topics in plenty of locations. From Bonn in Germany last week, where the latest round of UN climate talks took place, to London Climate Action Week which begins this Saturday, it’s hard to know where to look next. With high-level summits taking place in the USA, Portugal, Gabon, Australia and Luxembourg, to name but a few in the coming months all vying to shape the agenda for Egypt’s COP27 in November.

Bear in mind I am only talking about the official summits here. We shouldn’t forget the various fringe and alternative events popping up here, there and everywhere. Events such as the edie Climate Finance Week in July are convening the great and the good of the private sector, to bring momentum to the global climate conversation.

One of the newer events on the climate circuit takes place next week in the shape of the third annual London Climate Action Week (LCAW). LCAW, founded in June 2019 by the climate change think tank E3G, brings together an array of climate expertise and activism from across this “Global City” to help solve the climate emergency. This year’s event, taking place six months on from COP26, and with six months to go before COP27 is being billed as an opportunity to provide a reality check on the progress made since the signing of the “Glasgow Pact”, as well as closely looking at the practical actions needed to reach the 2030 targets agreed in Glasgow.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, will be front and centre for many of next week’s activities. He’s been backing the goal of London reaching net zero by 2030 (with 80% from actual emissions cuts and 20% provided by carbon offsets). Khan along with the City of London Corporation, wants to position the capital as an exemplar climate city and a global hub of climate expertise; it’s estimated there are currently 250,000 “green jobs” in the capital with the target of reaching half a million by 2030 and a million jobs created by 2050.

LCAW this year has four principal themes:

  • Driving Green, Fair and Resilient Climate Transitions: Events that address the policy, financial, technical and political practicalities of delivering rapid emissions reduction, adaptation and resilience in a fair and inclusive way, and how we work together to ensure practical delivery of commitments to climate action.
  • The Road to COP27: Events that cover progress on international diplomacy and cooperation towards COP27, particularly on the global adaptation goal, adaptation finance, loss and damage, 2030 nationally determined contribution (NDC) increases, and how COP27 can help address the challenges and opportunities for climate action in Africa.
  • Whole of Society Climate Mobilisation: Events that reach beyond the usual “climate bubble” to engage with “what climate change means to me”, exploring the multiple experiences of living in a time of climate change, and responses from people across all communities.
  • Creating a Sustainable, Net Zero London by 2030: How this goal aligns with other objectives on housing, employment, inclusion, air pollution, sustainable transport, green infrastructure and more.

What will be important for LCAW is that the climate discussions don’t get caught in an echo chamber or “climate bubble”. This is where COP26 was deemed a success. Despite the glaring challenges posed by the global pandemic, COP26 ultimately ended in an agreement and with committed signatories agreeing to return to each COP thereafter with national plans on decarbonisation.

COP26 was also seen as the finance COP, with “buy in” from the private sector into the climate response, with an understanding that we cannot solve climate change with government finance alone – it’s all too big a problem for that.

Each COP has its own geopolitical challenges, however, and this year’s COP is no different. COP27, taking place later this year in Egypt, is set against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, with its impact on energy security, whilst very much attempting to bring to the fore the plight of the developing world. African nations are seeing COP27 as their moment to highlight the risk of climate change to the world, and focus on practical solutions, such as adaptation and development finance. The world is slowly but surely recovering from Covid-19, albeit at different paces, but the green recovery is even more varied, and no more so is that the case than in Africa.

Although COPs are key negotiation opportunities for top level conversation, necessarily held behind closed doors and conducted in secret, there must always be a place at the table for civil society. COP26, intended to be as inclusive as possible, was accused of being exclusionary – mainly due to the necessity of limiting numbers in rooms due to Covid-19. Likewise, with COP27, it is not yet clear where the public can get engaged, with issues surrounding hotel availability, cost and access in Egypt a very real problem. Yes, COPs must be for government-to-government negotiation, but there must also be a place for individuals to feel part of the proceedings.

This is why events such as LCAW play such a vital role. Whilst it is naturally very London and UK-centric, it is increasingly viewed as a landmark event on the climate calendar, particularly amongst activists, due to its diverse and inclusive approach to the world’s pressing environmental concerns.

Expect to see plenty of coverage on the week across all forms of media, with gatherings at every level expected to take place in London and further afield.

Wherever you are reading this, chances are that there is a climate change conference on its way to a city near you soon. They play an important role in ensuring the climate emergency crisis is not obscured or forgotten in these difficult and dangerous times.

* Events cited: The USA (The High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development – July), Portugal (UN Ocean Conference – June/July), Gabon (Africa Climate Week – August), Australia (Urban Climate Conference – August) and Luxembourg (Climate Alliance Conference – September),