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‘Together for implementation’: 3 things we learned at COP27

by | Dec 6, 2022 | Public Relations

‘Together for Implementation.’ That has been the mantra of the COP27 Presidency, a direct and deliberate riposte to the notion that for all the attention garnered by this annual gathering of world leaders, financial institutions, climate experts, activists, campaigners and—let’s face it—lobbyists, it is little more than an expensive talking shop.

On a practical level, Sharm El-Sheikh was an imperfect host. Hotels hiked their rates to thousands of dollars a night. The conference wifi fell over at the first sign of a Zoom call, and the centre itself was a maze of pavilions lacking even basic signage.

Egypt more than made up for these superficial issues by overseeing a COP focused squarely on delivery, with discussions around the mobilisation of climate finance and technological innovation dominating plenary sessions and fringe meetings.

The global media gaze has already shifted, decisively, to the World Cup. But there are still important conversations to be driven forward—and initiatives to be implemented—before we meet again in Dubai next November.

Here are three things I learned during my ten days on the Egyptian coast about business communication.

Finance is the name of the game

One of the clear messages from this COP is a growing interest in mobilising climate finance, and crucially, directing funding for adaptation to the developing world. Finance needs to be scaled up dramatically, and quickly. Governments need to be honest about the enormous financial cost of moving towards net zero, but can make the case that investing now will prevent the world racking up even greater costs in the future.

Corporations across the world face the same dilemma. Net Zero pledges will face increasing scrutiny if they appear out of step with wider growth objectives during the current climate. Businesses and governments will therefore need to proactively communicate how their climate policies will benefit stakeholders. Equal weight will need to be given to economic growth, environmental protection, and social justice as they relate to sustainability. This may sound simplistic but communicating the fact that we cannot afford to ignore global warming can profoundly change discussions on the climate agenda.

Challenging the status quo will require thoughtful messaging and a significant proactive effort

COP27 revealed strong momentum behind green hydrogen, developments in storage technology, and other underutilised forms of renewable energy generation. Yet the UK’s renewable energy transition has been the subject of fierce debate in politics and the media.

While the environmental and ethical case for moving away from fossil fuels is largely settled, there is increasingly vocal opposition to utility-scale renewable energy projects, centred on land-use and disruption to the countryside. It is therefore no longer enough for corporations to simply defend the rollout of large-scale projects on environmental grounds at the local level. To influence the direction of travel, businesses must proactively promote their solutions and demonstrate that their activities are futureproofing climate security. This message needs to be delivered directly, through strategic public affairs engagement, and indirectly, via national and trade media.

Non-engagement is becoming taboo

For most world leaders, COP is now a fixture in the diary. President Biden hotfooted it from the US midterm elections to deliver a keynote address last Friday; Brazil’s re-elected President Lula made a landmark commitment to protecting the Amazon; and Rishi Sunak succumbed to political pressure to attend on behalf of the UK. With Biden and President Xi agreeing to resurrect climate talks, we may even see China represented at the highest level in 2023.

The same is true for companies. Until recently, corporate messaging was rife with unsubstantiated “greenwashing”. Today, such greenwashing is considered unacceptable. All stakeholders—from employees to investors and shareholders—expect corporations to contribute to the COP agenda, and to be transparent about their ESG commitments and how they plan to achieve these in practice.

While COP27 provided an opportunity for the international community to work together to reduce emissions, it is clear that no one government, industry, or indeed organisation can solve the world’s problem alone. Corporations have a key role to play and those that fail to communicate the benefits of a coordinated and comprehensive ESG strategy will ultimately fail to engender the support of their customers and stakeholders.

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Andy Williams
Andy Williams is Director of Corporate Affairs at Hume Brophy.

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