An unlikely destination
WFA CEO Stephan Loerke reports back from COP27, where the real action is happening away from political leaders.
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Sharm el-Sheikh is an unlikely place to hold a Climate Summit. The Egyptian Red Sea resort doesn't strike me as anything close to what a sustainable city should look like. A freshly asphalted 5-lane dual carriage way, with illuminated palm trees, leads to a never-ending string of eco-unfriendly resorts.
But it actually may be the right location. It's the first COP Summit that takes place in Africa. A continent that is responsible for less than 3% of global carbon emissions, yet it has been the first to be impacted at scale by the very real consequences of climate change.
Data released ahead of COP27 forecasts that, on the basis of current country commitments, the average temperature on our planet is set to rise by +2.5 degrees Celsius – way beyond the Paris Agreement objective of +1.5 degrees. And despite that, it is unlikely that governments will significantly step up their commitments at the Summit.
The media attention is focused on heads of states and government negotiators in the Blue Zone but the real action is actually taking place elsewhere. The equivalent of the “fringe COP”, round-tables, panels and dinners that bring together a multitude of stakeholders: activists, regulators, scientists, businesses, start-ups and artists... That's where I spent my three days at COP.
Here are four things that I've learned:
1. Climate change has an immediate impact on DEI
Climate change is no longer a distant future. It impacts people's lives. It was heart-wrenching to hear Ugandan activists describe how women and girls in some Ugandan villages need to walk up to 40km daily to fetch water for their families. And how this leads to a dramatic number of girls dropping out of schools. Climate change and DEI are closely interconnected. Girls and women are the first to suffer from the impact of climate change in Africa.
2. Conventional government strategies won't get us there
One of the most emotional moments was when a high-level Western government official broke into tears at one of the round-tables on water. Despite the technology being there for improving water conservation, despite the objectives being clear, he's still facing huge difficulties in rallying stakeholders. I can't escape the lingering impression that governments are still stuck in very conventional ways of working and are often unable to mobilize stakeholders across the board and work in new ways.
3. “We need fewer scientists and more storytellers”
I heard this said at one of the dinner discussions and I think it hits the nail on its head. The communication around the climate challenge is purely data-based and rational. It often fails to connect with people on an emotional basis. That's what brand marketers know how to do. That's why they are more important than ever in helping the planet address the climate challenge.
4. “Do you work in marketing?”
One could think that marketers would be looked at with suspicion at COP but that's not the case. We're still seen as, potentially, a part of the solution. Stakeholders understand that marketing will have a huge role to play in driving consumer behaviour change. The House of Lords recently released a report that estimates that 30% of the carbon reduction emissions that the UK needs to achieve by 2050 will have to come from consumer behaviour change. When it comes to climate change, pessimism is not an option. There is ample evidence that the world is moving, it's just not moving fast enough. Now is the time for brand marketers to step up. Innovation, communication and creativity will be the secret sauce that will play a key role in getting people on the journey.