Road to COP28: the mood music, the imperatives and what businesses can do to engage

September 7, 2023

About the Author

Naomi Kerbel

Director of Communications

SEC Newgate organised an exclusive briefing to explore and examine the actions that companies should and need to be taking to drive change, engage with stakeholders and deliver the expected solutions for the upcoming COP 28 UAE.

A critical moment for the planet and for business

This is a critical moment for the planet. In the past three months we have seen flash droughts in Maui worsening wildfires and causing hundreds of deaths; one of the world’s most recognised symbols of global trade – the Panama Canal – falling victim to climate change as shrinking water levels lead to ships backing up and delaying cargo shipments around the world; and record-breaking heat waves withering crops, upending transportation networks and taking down electric grids across the US and parts of Europe.

This is a critical moment for business too with cyber incidents, supply chain disruption and macroeconomic developments causing consumers to tighten their belts amidst a global cost of living crisis.

In late November policy makers, business leaders, donors, activists, and investors will gather in Dubai for the 28th edition of the Conference of Parties.

At COP28 key decisions will be made which will guide business and politics into the second quarter of the 21st Century. We can expect a continued push for the phasing down of fossil fuels, the expectation of a tightening in the net zero transition requirements for businesses and agreements on the regulatory and investment framework for years to come.

With global temperatures expected to breach the Paris protocol agreement of 1.5C global warming as early as this year, and with huge investment required in delivering net zero by 2050 all of this represents a growing reputational risk to business as activists, regulators and the public demand action and impact to save the planet.

The big trends of COP28 UAE

SEC Newgate hosted an exclusive webinar to help our clients understand the backdrop upon which this summit is set and to explore the strategic risks and opportunities for businesses engaging with COP28 in Dubai.

I spoke to one of the lead advisors to the COP28 presidency Dr Charlie Ogilvie OBE about what he expects the big trends to be this year.

Here are some of his words of wisdom:

  • COP28 will be a big year for negotiations. It will have to agree on over 100 mandates, compared with about 50 at COP26 in Glasgow and this will be the first Global stocktake to see how countries and stakeholder are progressing towards the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
  • There are really burning issues that need to be negotiated upon including the loss and damage mechanism. These are issues that parties feel urgent action needs to be taken around and they will want to see tangible outcomes, not just kicking the can down the road with some text.
  • Next year concludes the 2025 finance goal negotiations. When you have finance goals to be agreed next year, the year before is going to be a place where you are setting up your stall and making your red lines matter. So there will be a lot of positioning around next year’s finance goals.
  • The dashboard is flashing red on global climate impacts and parties expect to see real progress. There will be less tolerance of green washing.
  • The energy sector was the lowest hanging fruit across much of the emissions reductions pre 2030. There has been a huge acceleration in the renewable energy space and the COP will be trying to capture that in a positive way and reflect on accelerating investment and huge progress across a range of technologies.
  • The parts of the energy system that are not moving as fast as they ought to will be under a lot of pressure to make new commitments and put themselves back on a track to a 1.5C degree pathway.
  • There will be a civil society push on corporate integrity and net zero transition plans
  • Nature and forestry initiatives offers opportunity for short term emission reductions. Jon Kerry and leaders in Africa have been focused on forests this year with investment from private sector
  • The UAE has focused on health and food systems as key parts of the climate transition for the developing world
  • There will be issues around civil society and access given the host nation

It is important to remember that although businesses do not have an official seat at the COP table, the risk and cost of climate change on them and the global economy is huge. A report from the Deloitte Center for Sustainable Progress showed that climate change could cost the global economy $178 trillion over the next 50 years, or a 7.6% cut to global gross domestic product (GDP) in the year 2070 alone.

Engaging with COP

To engage with COP and be seen and heard, businesses needs to find other ways to engage. Fortunately, the site of this year’s COP is well used to hosting large events with much bigger crowds than are expected in November.

The Blue Zone is the UN-managed space which hosts the negotiations. The space brings together delegations from 197 Parties, alongside observer organisations to share their stories at panel discussions, side events, exhibits, and cultural event.

The Green Zone is the area that typically hosts the private sector, youth groups, civil society, NGOs, and Indigenous Peoples.

Although there will be many checkpoints between the two, the access will be far simpler than last year’s event in Egypt so it is expected that events in the Green Zone will be well attended by Blue Zone delegates.

Andrew Adie, Head of SEC Newgate UK Green and Good shared what businesses could do to engage with COP and show their commitment to making a difference.

Here are his thoughts:

  • Businesses need to consider the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They do not need to work on all of them, but they need to pick at least 5 things they can do well, do them and then report them transparently to really make a difference.
  • Collaborate with other groups in the Green Zone and in the fringe events; show that you work well together.
  • Business has to have a plan and deliver on that: at individual level, at industry level and at country level.
  • Businesses need to take their seat at the table, otherwise it will be up to politics to decide and their expectations on what is “good” might not be deliverable.
  • The most important thing is transparency. There are so many standards and frameworks which might create confusion for companies and it’s difficult to keep up with all the new updated and new releases so businesses should be transparent in what they do and how they report.

SEC Newgate has deep expertise in running communications programmes in COP. Here you can see some of the work that we did for clients in COP27 in Egypt.