What is COP27 and why is it in the headlines?

What is COP27 and why is it in the headlines? Andrew Hetherington, member of the IFoA's Sustainability Early Careers Board, leads off a series of blogs providing commentary on COP27, the international climate change conference. This first article provides a brief background on what COP27 is and what's been tabled for discussion over the next couple of weeks.

What is COP?
The United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC), more commonly referred to as COP or the Conference of the Parties, is an annual conference where representatives from the different United Nations member states come together to discuss progress against the key UNCCC goal of limiting climate change and to agree policies to accelerate climate action. COP27 is the 27th of these annual conferences and is taking place from 6th–18th November.

Why does COP matter?
Global temperatures are steadily increasing, and extreme weather events are becoming more common. There is a scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are driving these changes. Unless we take drastic measures now to reduce emissions, then the situation is expected to only get worse, possibly crossing a ’tipping point’ where the runaway consequences of climate change are likely to become irreversible.

Around 140 countries have set, or are considering the setting of, targets to reduce their emissions to net zero by 2050 (‘net zero’ meaning a situation in which a country is, in aggregate, no longer contributing any additional greenhouse gases to the atmosphere). Together, these countries account for close to 90% of global emissions. However, there is much debate over countries' ability to meet these commitments, and these targets are unlikely to be ambitious enough if global temperatures are to be kept within the limit of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels (a commonly cited threshold beyond which climate-related consequences are expected to become significantly worse).

At COP, the world watches to see whether a credible plan can be agreed for transitioning our economies and societies away from activities that emit greenhouse gases and towards a more sustainable future.

What’s being discussed at COP27?
This year's COP has a wide-ranging agenda spanning:

  • how our financial systems should support the transition to low-carbon economies and societies
  • the latest developments in climate science
  • the perspectives of young people and the consequences of climate change for future generations
  • policies and approaches for weaning our economies off fossil fuels and other natural resources that damage the environment when consumed
  • our agriculture and food production systems, and ensuring these are resilient to climate change
  • the tendency of climate change to exacerbate existing gender inequalities and hence to have a disproportionate impact on women
  • the security of water sources in a future where droughts could become more common.
  • the role of civil society in addressing climate change ('civil society’ meaning community groups, non-governmental organisations, charities, and so on)
  • sustainable energy production and renewables
  • the protection of biodiversity
  • the discussion of creative and innovative solutions to specific challenges posed by climate change.

What can we do as actuaries?
Actuaries can play a part in making sure that the institutions we work for are prepared for a future in which climate risk plays an increasingly important role. We should ensure that we understand the different risks to the financial system posed by climate change and keep up to date with developments in the sustainability field. If the impact of climate change isn't being taken into account adequately within the projects we take part in, then we should speak up and argue for it to be considered in a meaningful way.

Where can I go for more commentary on COP27?
Over the next two weeks, the IFoA's Sustainability Early Careers Board will be posting regular updates on the Institute's blog as the discussions at COP progress. The board's members will also be posting regular updates on LinkedIn within the Sustainable Finance Community group. Keep up to date by bookmarking the IFoA's blog, joining the discussion within the LinkedIn group, or by signing up to the Sustainable Finance Community newsletter.

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