Climate Lead, Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Accelerating climate action is urgent. Otherwise, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres says: we are on the ‘highway to climate hell.’
Following a somewhat chaotic conference in Sharm el-Sheikh which saw last-minute negotiations in danger of collapse amid stark warnings that the 1.5-degree target was on life support — can COP27 be described as a success?
The official ‘cover decision’ outcomes of COP27 have solicited broad consensus: the loss and damage fund is a milestone to be welcomed. However, as many note, its focus is on tackling the effects of the changing climate — not the causes.
On tackling the causes, the negotiated outcomes were more limited. The energy transition agenda did not receive the ambition increase sought after Glasgow, and discussions on how to achieve a ‘transition in patterns of consumption and production’ need turbocharging.
Doing less harm simply isn’t good enough — we must redesign our economy so that it actively improves the world we live in.
Circular economy approach
We must deliver on both causal areas if we are to get off the highway. We need to tackle the 55% of emissions that arise from our energy system and the 45% of emissions that come from how we currently produce and consume.
Success lies in the energy transition, based on energy efficiency and renewable energies — and the circular economy. By eliminating waste and pollution, circulating products/materials and regenerating nature, a circular economy can reduce — and even avoid — emissions across the value chain, retain embodied emissions and improve carbon sequestration.
These two transitions can deliver a clean-powered, vibrant economic model that builds on human creativity and contributes to economic, environmental and social resilience. Doing less harm simply isn’t good enough — we must redesign our economy so that it actively improves the world we live in.
Positive markers on which to build
Beyond the official outcomes, discussions amongst policymakers and non-state actors in and around the climate negotiations hold the seeds of hope: COP27 was the first COP to focus on agriculture and food system solutions; numerous national and thematic pavilion discussions explored the contribution a circular economy can make to climate action in the built environment, cities, mobility, fashion, plastics and the energy sector itself. This echoes the increased focus on the circular economy in the IPCC sixth assessment report.
With implementation needed by all actors, all year round, these side discussions can be just as important. As we prepare to gain stronger transition incentives from COP28, let’s focus on implementing the solutions we have now and build clarity on the formal outcomes we need next year to ensure a low-carbon, circular economy becomes the economy itself.