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Cooperate or perish – which do you choose?

11 November 2022

It is fascinating to watch some of the world’s cleverest, most talented and most successful men and women wrestling with a fundamental problem which they have failed to solve for 27 years.  COP27 marks the 27th time they have considered the challenge of climate change, during which time they have not only failed to correct the problem, it has in fact grown into a substantially worse problem for our world than when first they started, a problem that many at COP27 believe to threaten the end of the human race.


But that does not mean it cannot be solved.  UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told us what we have to do at the start of the conference in these chilling words – “cooperate or perish.”  This week, a remarkable step forward has been taken, a step that does show we can cooperate to avoid destruction.  


For the last seven years, since they were formed following COP21 in Paris, the UN Climate Change High Level Champions have been working to develop and expand the various initiatives that came out of COP21 and subsequent COP’s.  These comparatively anonymous people are led by two champions who are drawn from the host countries for the last COP and the next COP.  So currently, the two are a British representative, and an Egyptian representative.  Their founding remit was described as: “to connect the work of governments with the many voluntary and collaborative actions taken by cities, regions, businesses and investors, nations decided to appoint two high-level champions.”


In other words, they were set up to enable cooperation between nation states, between COP’s.  To continue the work of the COP’s, if you like, between meetings.


As you can imagine, their success has been limited.  They have produced numerous reports, which you can see here; they have fostered the concepts embedded in “The Race to Net Zero” and “The Race to Resilience”.  They have been active in encouraging interstate dialogue.  Their team is large, and crosses borders and continents.  But in spite of all this, progress since Paris in 2015 has been all in the wrong direction.  Everything has got worse, not better.


In the run up to COP27, however, they have done something different in content and structure.  They have developed an approach to practical solutions properly funded which has not been seen before.  And they have done it with a consortium of actors that have not been engaged together before – once again, cooperation, but now on a scale previously unknown.


Their work has not been celebrated or even marked at COP27, but this seems to me to be the real beacon of hope in answer to Antonio Guterres.  Everything is summarised in a Report which you can find here.  But let me explain what I see in it and why I think it is exciting.


  • Firstly its title, Assets to Flows, sums up what seems to me to be an entirely new thought in the world of Climate Change.  For the last few years, all informed economists have been saying that climate change is the biggest investment opportunity in history.  But we have not seen this converting into reality.  In fact, the very opposite is the case.  We have repeatedly heard in recent months about the funding gap between the need, expressed in trillions, and the funding available, which has not moved beyond the low billions.  Assets to Flows is a simple statement of what actually needs to happen, and by virtue of its simplicity, it becomes much more accessible.  The assets available to the work that needs doing are calculated in their trillions.  The requirement now is to enable the flow from assets to projects, and projects to transformation.  Assets to Flows considers over 450 projects valued at close to $600 billion for which this is required to happen.
  • Secondly, the partnership considering and contributing to Assets to Flows is made up of the organisations who can make this happen.  Their own account of the partnership is telling: “More than 50 financial institutions participated in the forums.  Furthermore, multilateral development banks such as the World Bank, AfDB, Afreximbank, SDB, AIIB, IsDB, CAF and IDB amongst others offered key takeaways…and provided insights on key priorities from a financing perspective.”


Does this mark a step change?  It certainly has not been treated as such, but perhaps that is the most encouraging sign.  So much of what has been done at COP’s has been wrapped up in the rhetoric of self-congratulation and political achievement, which has borne no fruit whatever.  Pompous pacts and non-binding agreements yield nothing but words.  


As COP27 on Climate Change comes to an end, we should be mindful of the most basic consequences our actions cause.  If we continue to live as we are living, the impact will continue to be deaths and homelessness caused by events like the floods in Pakistan and the drought in Somalia.  We wan see what Antonio Guterres means when he says, the choice for the human race is to cooperate or perish.


Will this Report from the relatively invisible High Level Champions provide the platform for real cooperation?  If so, there may be hope.


We are always interested in your views of these, or indeed other issues relating to climate change. Please contact us here.