As with prior UN climate conferences, COP28 in the UAE will raise the usual hopes of high-level climate action. But at this point, COP conferences also come with a familiar cycle of distraction and disappointment. COPs have little to show for themselves at a time when ‘little’ action poses an existential threat.
It’s time to embrace an alternative to cyclical climate conferences with uncertain impact. Consistent climate action with clear impact deserves far more attention.
COP conferences ought to aid climate mitigation efforts. The international media attention, and particularly the international political cooperation inherent to the COP process, should be vital accelerants for large-scale climate action.
But while the headline achievements at COP27 were important, they encapsulated the “too little too late” bureaucratic sluggishness that critics argue characterises the COP process.
Months before COP28 even begins, controversies threaten to limit this conference’s ability to deliver meaningful climate solutions as well. Sultan al-Jaber, CEO of ADNOC (one of the world’s largest oil companies), has been appointed as COP28’s president. The appointment was met with widespread calls for him to step down due to a perceived major conflict of interest. Clampdowns on criticising corporations’ green credentials at a recent UAE climate conference also drew concerned commentary.
The most basic metric for climate progress – atmospheric CO2 levels – highlights COP conferences’ limitations even more starkly. Despite nearly three decades of climate conferences, CO2 levels have risen steadily every single year.
The cycle of COPs overpromising and underdelivering can become wearying. Instead, we need an alternative solution which is effective and fast-acting. This decade will be ‘decisive’, as climate scientists warn that the world will likely exceed the Paris Agreement’s warming threshold of 1.5°C in the next decade. The more impact we can deliver now, the more we can mitigate climate change’s worst effects.
Compared to the often-ineffective COP cycle, climate philanthropy presents an opportunity to deliver identifiable and consistent impact. Best-in-class climate charities deliver a wide array of effective solutions. They enforce environmental law, combat deforestation, defend ocean ecosystems and more. Climate charities do not depend on annual conferences or an assembly of politicians to act. They depend on all of us to fund their solutions at scale.
Incorporating climate philanthropy into normal business for the financial services industry might take one of three approaches. The first option is for individual investors to incorporate philanthropy into everyday asset allocation. This starts with a conversation with their financial adviser, treating it in the same way as any other investment decision about their assets.
If every individual allocated a tiny proportion of their assets – 0.25%, for example – to best-in-class climate charities, we could fund climate philanthropy at unprecedented scale. Around the world, private individuals alone hold approximately $150trn in savings and investments. If just 3% of these individuals allocated that small amount annually, their donations would total $10bn every year.
The second option is to incorporate philanthropy into fund management, embedding a donation to climate charities into the management fee of specific financial products. Titan Asset Management, for example, recently launched a model portfolio service donating a portion of management fee to a selection of climate not-for-profits.
A third option is for institutions to incorporate philanthropy into their CSR strategy. Firms might make a simple annual donation to a selection of climate charities, or they might donate as a complement or alternative to purchasing carbon offsets. Climate charities, after all, can deliver systemic or hard-to-quantify climate solutions that offsetting often ignores.
Climate philanthropy from financial institutions – whether from investment products or CSR strategies – could deliver tangible benefits for the planet that too often elude COP negotiators.