The Climate COP System Needs an Overhaul.

The 27th UN climate change summit (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, was expected to promote climate justice. Like the 26 that preceded it, progress continues at a snail’s pace while climate chaos spirals out of control.

There are other COPs that receive little to no attention by the media and business community, such as COP 15 on Biodiversity (this year in Montreal), and the threat of diminished bio-diversity is a much larger threat to humanity.  But that is a topic for another day…

Me at COP21 (with a full head of hair).

I started attending the COP sessions over a decade ago and decided to stop at COP23 in Bonn. Here is me at COP21.  I had a full head of (dark) hair.  I miss those days…

Why did I stop attending the Climate COP?

It had increasingly become like the environmental version of the World Economic Forum in Davos; a “look at me! I am at COP.  Look how much I care!!” or “You aren’t going to COP? I thought this was your field”.  Yes Yes… There are side meetings and discussions that are valuable, but the only outcome that matters are the treatises and accords (and their adoption).  Everything else is a sideshow, and I got tired of it.  So… I have some thoughts.

This was the 27th Climate COP. Twenty-Seven.  Why?

CO2 in the atmosphere at the first Climate Summit in 1979 was at 337.1 parts per million (ppm), and today, they are at 416.43 ppm, an increase of 79.33 ppm over those 43 years.  It should be noted that in the 43 years preceding, it increased by 27 ppm.

Note: If you can distinguish between decaffeinated coffee and regular, you can tell the difference between 327ppm and 416.

The Kyoto Protocol didn’t slow emissions, nor did the Copenhagen Accord.  In fact, since the signing of the Copenhagen accord in 2009, we crossed the 400 ppm threshold and continue to trend in the wrong direction.  The Paris accord was heralded, and the Glasgow accord was another positive step, but without accountability, what is the point?

Data Src. The Nature Conservancy

Did rising energy prices scare world leaders from taking bold action?

To date, the commitments made in Paris six years ago have fallen short of ambitions. They have ultimately been unsuccessful in bringing down overall global emissions, which are at an all-time high in 2022.

This year’s agreement failed to go beyond the 2021 Glasgow climate pact’s promise to “phase down unabated coal power.”  It is worth noting that geo-political impacts such as Russia’s war against Ukraine overshadowed the COP and has necessitated the expanded (immediate need) for domestic fossil fuels which didn’t help.  On the other side of the coin, Qatar reportedly spent over $220 Billion to host the world cup. Money is there, just lack of prioritization…

Nations clearly can’t agree so let’s flip the script!

Companies represent 30 to 40 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions and of that number 70% are SMEs.  It is time that we change the paradigm and take a bottom-up approach.  We need a movement where large corporations, SMEs, NGOs, civil society, and even investors can play an integral role.  ESG regulations can only take us so far.  We need an inside-out commitment to reducing our impact while simultaneously regenerating biodiversity.

I agree with Greta Thunberg who said “As it is now, the COPs are mainly being used as an opportunity for leaders and people in power to get attention when they say, ‘We’re going to change,’ and using many different kinds of greenwashing, lying and cheating and so on.”

To do this, the COP system needs to do a few things. 

  • First— it needs to return to its roots and eliminate the circus side-show on-site.  Let’s allow the legislators their space to do their “work” and take all the creative energy for the side events and mobilize regional and national action platforms where all of society can contribute and take ownership.
  • Second — the COP system needs to be held in a location where the sponsoring country is leading efforts to limit green house gas emissions to 1.5º C, not who has the best lobbyists.   COP28 will be in Abu Dhabi…
  • Third — it needs to ensure that the sponsor isn’t one of (if not the) largest plastic pushers on the planet.

How about this?

Rather than having a two-week conference where the entire world hops a flight to gather, let’s start a grass-roots event where like-minded individuals can engage local leaders, discuss opportunities to decarbonize, learn skills and set targets. Let’s build action platforms that have real impact that roll up to larger national and international goals.

Until we do, we can always expect there to be another Climate COP, until there can’t be.

We want to do something. Who wants to join us?

Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

One thought to “The Climate COP System Needs an Overhaul.”

  1. Joel, Well said! Thank you for your continued focus on climate and project management.
    I have been studying MMT, which blew my mind. Having a degree in economics, learning MMT has really opened my eyes with a better understanding how money really works. With MMT, the major counties like the US do have the financial ability to fund solutions for climate change (providing they manage inflation). Sadly, I don’t see the willpower there on the political front. I have reached out to Bernie Sanders, the Senator representing my state and only get canned email replies with content that have nothing to do with my email message. I still try.

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