Former Cop26 chief's high hopes for a 'new cycle' leading to Cop28 in the UAE

Claire O'Neill says governments must be more ambitious to reach climate targets

Claire O'Neill wants to see more business involvement in future Cop summits. Shutterstock
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Global negotiations on the Cop26 climate targets are shifting focus to the challenges likely to drive the next set of talks due to be hosted by Egypt at Cop27 and potentially the UAE at Cop28, according to Claire O'Neill, the former British president of the 26th meeting.

The Conservative politician predicted that a new emphasis could draw in formal declarations from sectors beyond governments and states, in particular from businesses, as part of the overall United Nations climate talks process which this month sees the Cop26 negotiations taking place in Glasgow.

Representing a global business coalition at the summit, she told The National that the gathering of parties for one, and perhaps two, conferences in the Middle East region between now and 2023 represented a great opportunity.

“It's going to be very interesting that the Cop will go to Egypt and then to the UAE,” said Ms O'Neill, who was the first UK nomination for president of Cop26.

“The point about this is that it is a global moment where we all get to focus on climate change and I think the next couple of years will be crucial. We want governments to be more ambitious to get the whole team on the pitch — governments, investors and the corporate sector.”

Particular issues that face the Middle East region are bound to be more sharply defined by successive Cop presidencies being run from countries which are facing some of the most serious climate change strains while also investing in new technologies to make the 1.5°C limit on rising global temperatures a realistic policy choice.

The UAE bid to lead the negotiations as host of the summit at Cop28 took a significant step forward this week when the Asia Pacific group of countries unanimously endorsed the offer. The UN will confirm the upcoming host at the end of the current summit.

Middle East companies look to UAE Cop presidency

Companies in the Middle East with a commitment to sustainable growth want to see the movement of Cop leadership roles into the region as a chance to put the spotlight on its issues centre stage, said Ms O'Neill, who is the managing director of climate and energy for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

“The challenges in the region, of temperature stress, of water stress, of fossil fuel-based economies, are balanced by massive investments in renewable industries,” she said, from the business pavilion of the UK-hosted summit. “We sometimes don't hear enough about what those challenges look like.

“I think the next Cop cycle will be a new chance to amplify those of the world's most sustainable businesses who are committed to net zero by 2050, nature positive and committed to reducing inequality and total transparency in reporting.”

I want to see corporates and investors in there in the [Cop] negotiations themselves
Claire O'Neill

The WBCSD proposed its own framework this week for helping to achieve net-zero targets, not only for its members but as part of the UN's Cop structure, which is built on the concept of countries providing Nationally Determined Contribution documents that set out targets in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement

The Paris treaty calls for a limit on the overall rise in temperatures as a result of global warming to below 2C. The business coalition said at the Glasgow meeting that its more than 200 big business members would submit annual Corporate Determined Contributions to provide a private-sector mechanism to mirror the official process.

“I want to see Corporate Determined Contributions,” she said. “I want to see corporates and investors in there in the negotiations themselves.

“I want to see a focus on how this is done and beyond the theoretical pathways to net zero.”

The grouping's wider Business Manifesto for Climate Recovery is a 12-point action plan to reduce, remove and report greenhouse gas emissions.

“The majority of the economy activity is in the private sector and we have thought that by not having businesses at the table we are missing a trick,” Ms O'Neill said. “Increasingly, what we are not capturing is that ambition of the private sector on emissions.”

Updated: November 04, 2021, 6:28 PM