The 5 Things We Learnt from UN COP 25

UN Climate Change COP 25 (‘Conference of Parties’) closed in Madrid last week, which must be a relief for the organisers. It did not get off to a smooth start, with Chilean protests forcing a last-minute move to Europe. And while the logistics have held up, commentators’ widespread opinion is that the summit has failed to reach its objectives.

This event is an annual gathering where world leaders discuss a coordinated approach to climate goals set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement. In the run-up to COP 25 UN published several bleak reports revealing that the key climate indicators have worsened in 2015-2019.

So what can we learn about progress to date?

  1. The most prominent – and worrying – narrative is around lack of alignment and even finger-pointing. Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) have rallied against countries including Australia, the United States, Canada, Russia, India, China and Brazil. India, supported by China, Saudi Arabia and Brazil, is taking a hard line on the promises made by richer countries in previous agreements before the Paris pact was signed in 2015. The list goes on and makes for a depressing read.
  2. Some key Paris Agreement pillars are even at risk of unravelling, which would mean a step back rather than forward. These include how to measure and report progress on government commitments and how to track and manage carbon markets.
  3. The main positive piece of news came from the EU who set out European Green Deal to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Presented as the ‘new growth strategy’ this plan must still jump through many hoops before it can be implemented. Yet the commitment and direction of travel is positive.
  4. Whilst US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has surely undermined UN’s efforts, organisations such as #WeAreStillIn are at least softening the blow. For example, the latter has recently been joined by 3M, Facebook, HP Inc., Ikea, Mars, Target, CocaCola and Unilever. In fact, according to their latest statement #WeAreStillIn now represents nearly 65% of the US population and nearly 70% of its GDP.
  5. There are many other encouraging signs from the private sector. RE100 is a corporate initiative that now has 200+ members, all of them committed to switching to 100% renewable energy. And Science Based Targets released its first-ever progress report, announcing that 686 businesses have now publicly joined the initiative.

Whilst it is encouraging to see private sector stepping up, as MBA students we know full well that investor and shareholder requirements put pressure on businesses to balance sustainable growth with shorter-term commercial returns. Which is why it is critical for all parts of society – from politicians and voters, to campaigners and consumers – to play a role in driving this transition.

If you’re interested in the role business is playing in leading this charge, check out our Global Energy Day.