Climate Change

3 things that need to happen during COP27, according to a leading climate scientist

People gather during a panel discussion at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

From shifting promises to real action to putting money on the table, here are 3 key actions for COP27. Image: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Simon Torkington
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Climate Change

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  • Leading climate scientist urges shift from debate to action at COP27 summit.
  • Johan Rockström calls for trillions of dollars of funding to combat climate change.
  • Rockström says climate change can no longer be tackled incrementally.
  • Average global temperatures have been trending upwards, non-stop, for 40 years.

The COP27 summit in Egypt is taking place at the end of another year characterized by rising temperatures and extreme weather events.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Governments, scientists, business leaders and academics have been talking about avoiding the worst effects of climate change since the first COP meeting in Berlin in 1995, but nothing so far has slowed the march of climate change.

As the infographic below illustrates, trends in global surface temperatures and the frequency of extreme weather events are all moving in the wrong direction. The Global Climate Report for September 2022 from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finds that Europe, Asia and North America all experienced extreme summer temperatures. And at both poles, sea ice cover was well below the 1981-2010 average.

COP27 A map of the world showing significant climate anomalies and events in September 2022.
2022 has been characterized by extreme climate and weather events. Image: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

It all amounts to an urgent call to action for delegates at COP27, says Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

3 urgent actions for COP27

Rockström says three things need to happen at the COP27 climate talks.

Firstly, he is urging climate stakeholders to shift from promises and pledges to real-world action. “Many pledges were made in Glasgow [at COP26],” he says. “Don't debate those pledges anymore. Deliver. Now is the time to be accountable – it's time to report back. What are we doing? Unfortunately, we will show in Sharm El-Sheikh that we're not making progress on those pledges. But this is the moment to set up the monitoring and accountability mechanisms for that.”

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Funding climate action

Rockström’s call for action appears timely given the recent acceleration in global temperature rises.

Rockström’s final priority for COP27 is to establish a mechanism for regular reappraisal of the threat posed by climate change.
Rockström’s final priority for COP27 is to establish a mechanism for regular reappraisal of the threat posed by climate change. Image: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The chart above from the NOAA reveals an unbroken cycle of warmer-than-average conditions globally that spans more than 40 years.

Breaking this cycle will require extraordinary funding, says Rockström, listing another of his three priorities for COP27.

“Number two is to put money on the table. This is the time to truly fill up the Green Climate Fund. $100 billion is much too little, we know that. We have to move into the trillions to help developing countries to accelerate the pathways towards decarbonizing their economies as well.”

Rockström’s final priority for COP27 is to establish a mechanism for regular reappraisal of the threat posed by climate change.

“Number three is to have a serious update on the risk assessment,” says Rockström. “The World Economic Forum is famous for its annual risk reporting. We need to have a much more frequent, what I would call ‘catastrophic risk-assessment analysis’ in the climate negotiations, because we're so close to tipping points, we're so close to unmanageable, that we are hitting the limits of adaptation.”

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Beyond COP27

When COP27 concludes, Rockström wants to see a new level of momentum in efforts to fight climate change, with a new approach from governments and other stakeholders.

“We're still allowing ourselves to believe that this can be handled incrementally, when in fact, we need to have exponential changes and take some big decisions.

“We need to recognize the need for more ‘radical politics’ or ‘radical governance’.

“We have to see that now is the time to take some big decisions to regulate ourselves away from the damaging processes we have today. It's a bit too easy for us to talk about consumer behaviour and choices and awareness and behavioural change.

“We need some big system shifts, which requires finance, politics and governance to shift.”

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