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How to make COP fit to deliver real climate action

With an agreement on loss and damage, COP27 marked the end of negotiations on all essential components of the global climate agreement. It is now time to shift gear. The current COP and presidency leadership process cannot deliver climate action at the speed required to avoid the worse impacts of global warming and create a more equal, cleaner world for all.

A group of experts, scientists and policy leaders – including Laurence Tubiana, former climate change ambassador for France and CEO of the European Climate Foundation, Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and UN special envoy on climate change, and Ban Ki-moon, former secretary general of the United Nations º have signed a letter calling on the secretary general of the UN António Guterres and executive secretary of the UNFCCC Simon Stiell to reform the COP process to ensure it can deliver results.

The signatories suggest a series of reforms, which they believe would allow the UNFCCC to help achieve the core objective of the COP gatherings, namely to avoid dangerous climate change by delivering the Paris Agreement. Any change needs to be implemented through constructive dialogue with the UN system and the COP presidency.

  1. COP needs to be able to act in, and respond to, our current emergency situation and to respect the goal of Paris of 1.5. The focus now needs to be on delivery and action, sharing best practice, holding countries to account, and financing the transition.

  2. COP should be based on science and all delegations should be regularly updated about new developments. Science shows urgent phasing out fossil fuels is vital to achieving climate targets in addition to the protection of nature and must be at the heart of discussions under the aegis of the COP.

  3. Instead of one huge annual COP, the letter calls for smaller, more frequent meetings to keep up momentum, focus on targeted deliverables and ensure governments are not the only voices heard during official discussions.

  4. The current structure with different zones separated from the negotiations should be abandoned and the COP meeting repurposed to be reporting, accounting and working sessions. Non state actor solutions and ideas need to be brought into the COP negotiations and not be siloed in sideline events, including indigenous peoples voices and young change actors.

  5. Multilateral banks and financial institutions should have a central role in working sessions to ensure pledges become tangible, deliverable workplans.

  6. All decisions and discussions should account for regional differences to ensure a just global transition. The COP process can set an example for transformational leadership by supporting localised transition pathways, knowledge exchange and technology co-development and international collaboration based on equity and empowerment.

‘Without rapid and radical transformation, the COP process will fail to deliver a safe climate landing for humanity. As Mr Guterres has said, we are on a highway to climate hell, we need to choose now to take our foot off the accelerator and start implementing an emergency plan underpinned by effective future COP’s that enables us to emerge from the planetary emergency before us,’ commented Sandrine Dixson-Declève, co-president of The Club of Rome.

‘The Paris Agreement is central to tackling the climate crisis, but its annual summits can't continue with business as usual. The gap between targets and real emissions is dangerously wide. We need to inject new purpose and momentum into the COP system or it will lose its relevance at the most critical time,’ said Laurence Tubiana, former climate change ambassador for France and CEO of the European Climate Foundation.

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and UN Special envoy on climate change reiterates the deep disappointment expressed by signatories that ‘COP27 parties could not even reach consensus on "’phasing out fossil fuels’. This consensus will never be reached if fossil energy interests are prioritised over the Paris Agreement goals.’

‘The COP process remains, from a climate action perspective, completely disconnected from scientific necessity,’ said Johan Rockström, director, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. ‘While this process inches forward with new targets and pledges, global emissions and temperatures continue to rise, and climate extremes occur more frequently and with more severity than expected. This lethargic progress is totally at odds with climate science and real world climate damage and risks.’

‘It is no secret that rain falls less and less frequently in many regions in Africa. People, in particular in East Africa, are close to starvation. They are losing their lives, their traditions, their ways of life and their homes. Yet, against a backdrop of real life disasters, the COP process is content to trundle on with unmet pledges and discussions that are out of sync with reality and climate science,’ saif Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, founder of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad. ‘From the frontline of climate change, we call on you to change the COP system now.’


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