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Cambridge climate specialists head for COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh with warning of ‘polycrises’





The annual COP27 climate change conference, which begins in Egypt today (November 6-18), features significant Cambridge representation for what is surely the last throw of the dice for a dignified response to climate change – if this one doesn’t work, with multiple environmental alarm bells now ringing very loudly, the next stop will be ongoing global catastrophe for many generations.

Antoinette Nestor, left, engagement officer for Cambridge Zero and the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge, at COP26 in Glasgow last year with indigenous speaker
Antoinette Nestor, left, engagement officer for Cambridge Zero and the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge, at COP26 in Glasgow last year with indigenous speaker

It’s fair to say that, after COP26 in Glasgow, the stakes are higher than ever. And Antoinette Nestor, engagement manager for both Cambridge Zero and the Centre for Climate Repair at the University of Cambridge, is aware of the challenge as she heads to the convention with Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, director of the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge, and deputy director Prof Hugh Hunt.

Antoinette was also at COP26 in Glasgow last year: so how much of what was discussed there has been successfully implemented?

“There has been follow-through,” she replies. “What came out in Glasgow is that it’s important that global greenhouse emissions will be reviewed again this year, rather than previously when it was five years, so that is important, to see where we’re up to. Plus, especially with the war in Ukraine and the economic situation, a statement has been issued to say human rights must be part of the agenda.”

“And last year they tried to put reparations/payments to endangered communities on table, and that hasn’t been forgotten from last year, there’s a determination to get going. That’s going to be a big sticking point too.”

The subtext to this renewed focus is that Western leaders now accept that the direct impacts already occurring, not least in the global South, are exacerbated by Western lifestyles. Western nations have enjoyed high standards of living for two centuries, and now the climate bill for that is coming in. We have not just used the most resources, bur many of those resources have been extracted in and from Africa and South America. Now those nations, and the Pacific islands of the south, need help to build resilience – or millions will be on the move to safer parts of the Earth.

Forest fires have helped push the January–September 2022 global surface temperature to 0.86°C above the 1901-2000 average of 14.1°C
Forest fires have helped push the January–September 2022 global surface temperature to 0.86°C above the 1901-2000 average of 14.1°C

Nina Seega, research director, sustainable finance at the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership (CISL), will also be in Sharm El-Sheikh, and said: “Regions across Africa are being hit by droughts, floods heatwaves and storms which are reducing their economic growth. Not only can regions like these not afford such losses, they also have least responsibility for the industrialisation-linked emissions that cause them.

“From the outset, the target figure of $100bn was just a fraction of the climate finance required. However, even this has failed to materialise. This consistent inability to hit even this low bar is rightly being flagged as a wake-up call to the finance ministries of rich nations.”

This year there is cautious optimism about Brazil, which has a new president is more inclined to protect the Amazon, “and children,” says Antoinette, adding: “How we educate the younger generation – that’s new this year and I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes.”

She continues: “I’m chairing a session on tipping points and climate repair on the 10th, that’s with the Centre for Climate Repair. That involves youth and scientists talking about the various tipping points and a 10-minute film about why they’re so important, so for instance there’s a debate about whether the melting of the Arctic is or is not a tipping point. That’s in the Blue Zone, in the Action Hub.

Dr Nina Seega, research director for sustainable finance at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)
Dr Nina Seega, research director for sustainable finance at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

“I’m also doing one side event I’ve helped organise, about climate law and governance with people from Peru, Chile, Bangladesh and Africa. Plus as per last year a whole day on climate law and governance issues online.

One of the big themes to emerge at recent COPS is indigenous people turning up and making delegates aware of climate impacts in their ecosystems. Antoinette, who hails from Chile, is involved in their schedule.

“There’s an online event on the 18th with indigenous people, which is about traditional knowledge and how you integrate that with climate action. There will be speakers from Australia, Easter Island, one from north and one from south Chile, plus one from indigenous village in Columbia, and this is what’s fascinating – why people go from remote places in person to COP. Climate change is really affecting people.

“So I’m very excited about that and that the Centre for Climate Repair has an event in the Indigenous Peoples pavilion.”

The backdrop to COP27 is a world already experiencing the first traumas of irreversible climate change
The backdrop to COP27 is a world already experiencing the first traumas of irreversible climate change

Meanwhile, CISL has five goals for the Sharm El-Sheikh forum:

- Finance: Mobilise capital to meet the trillions of dollars that economically poorer countries need to decarbonise and build climate resilience

- Adaptation: Ensure we protect everyone and everywhere from the impacts of a changing climate;

- Ambition: Close the ambition and implementation gaps by setting strong targets and establishing the right policies and actions to reach them

- Energy: Accelerate the shift to renewables and scale up measures to reduce energy demand through multilateral collaboration

- Nature: Set the bar for meaningful action to jointly address the climate and nature crises: achieving net zero while also protecting and restoring nature.

Beverley Cornaby, who manages the UK Corporate Leaders Group and chairs the UK Business Group Alliance for Net Zero, will be at COP27
Beverley Cornaby, who manages the UK Corporate Leaders Group and chairs the UK Business Group Alliance for Net Zero, will be at COP27

Eliot Whittington, director of policy at CISL, said of the agenda: “As we head into COP27, the world is facing a crucial moment to develop and implement the plans and policies needed to address the multiple crises we face relating to climate change, biodiversity loss, energy and food security, and related global cost of living increase. We cannot tackle any of these in isolation and we cannot allow cyclical crises to distract us from the transition to net zero.”

Other CISL attendees are Beverley Cornaby, who manages the UK Corporate Leaders Group and chairs the UK Business Group Alliance for Net Zero; and Ursula Woodburn, who is head of EU Relations at the European Corporate Leaders Group (CLG Europe). CISL is based a the We Mean Business Coalition which is at the Business Pavilion in the Blue Zone.

Clare Shine, CEO and director, CISL said: “We have entered a time of interlinked and converging polycrises. The consequences of acting too slowly for climate and nature are impacting every continent and threaten human security. Climate-related catastrophes are now frequent and ferocious, with millions of people losing their homes, family units and communities, and livelihoods. Too many have already lost their lives.

HRH Prince Charles (as he was then), Royal Founding Patron of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, unveils a plaque alongside CEO Clare Shine during a visit to the Entopia building, CISL’s new headquarters. Picture: Keith Heppell
HRH Prince Charles (as he was then), Royal Founding Patron of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, unveils a plaque alongside CEO Clare Shine during a visit to the Entopia building, CISL’s new headquarters. Picture: Keith Heppell

“If wealthy countries were trying to look away before, the setting for this year’s COP – bordering the hunger crisis in East Africa, and with the Russian invasion of Ukraine affecting Egyptian food security – puts the realities of climate and conflict risks squarely in the frame. Nowhere on the planet feels the impact of climate change more than Africa. It is time to rebuild trust between those nations most responsible for climate change and those whose people and economies are most vulnerable.

“COP27 will be tough because leaders must tackle some of the biggest problems ever faced. But the time is now.”



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