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COP27: Closing the gap between climate promises and delivery

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Why the UN summit in Egypt needs to unlock ambitious climate action

Asian farmer standing in a field, using his laptop to analyse crop data. Wind turbines can be seen in the background.

The world must halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. But rather than delivering the deep cuts needed, current plans equate to a 10% rise in emissions by 2030, putting the world on track for 2.5°C warming, and leaving billions of people, nature and our economies exposed to the risks of an unstable climate.

Yet climate change isn’t a future problem. Climate impacts are already affecting people, businesses and societies today. This year has seen catastrophic flooding in Pakistan and the Philippines, droughts and a food crisis in East Africa, and extreme heatwaves and wildfires in Europe, the US and China. 1.3 million people have been displaced by nationwide flooding in Nigeria. And the people suffering most are among the most vulnerable in society, who have done the least to contribute towards climate change.

COP27, the UN climate summit that will be held in Egypt this month, is an opportunity to close the gap between what the science says we need to do and what is being implemented today. Governments must lead the way by setting more ambitious plans with early action, by providing finance to help developing countries decarbonise and build resilience to climate change impacts, and by making policy changes that will allow businesses to play their full part in delivering on the higher targets that have been set.

What do we want global leaders to do at COP27?

An important part of Unilever’s own climate work is using our voice and influence for good. At COP27, we’re asking governments to take more ambitious climate action and start building resilience for the future by:

  • Setting out stronger national plans with more ambitious targets that accelerate action
  • Ensuring a fair and just transition to a net zero future by unlocking finance and investment for decarbonisation and resilience in developing countries
  • Putting in place policy frameworks that secure sustainable food and energy systems

What the world needs now...

  1. Keep increasing ambition and action

    Some of the world’s largest economies have taken significant steps forward on climate since COP26, but the overall speed and scale of action isn’t enough. That’s why Unilever is asking governments to maximise investments in natural and technological solutions, such as protecting forests that regulate the climate and innovating new technologies that remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it permanently. We’re also pressing for policy frameworks that allow businesses everywhere to set ambitious and credible roadmaps, by providing clarity on net zero standards and definitions, and incentives to invest in climate action.

  2. Unlock finance for decarbonisation and climate resilience

    Failing to invest in poorer countries will impact growth and supply chains globally and will leave the most vulnerable communities at greater risk from climate change. At COP26, developed countries promised to double adaptation finance by 2025 but progress is slow and more needs to be done. There is a clear need to improve how governments scale investment to achieve climate and sustainable development goals. We’re asking governments to elevate the importance of investing in resilience globally in addition to accelerating decarbonisation efforts, because only a truly global and fair transition will deliver the outcomes we need.

  3. Secure sustainable food and energy systems

    Transitioning to sustainable food and energy systems are key priorities for COP27, allowing us to drastically reduce global emissions while increasing food and energy access and security. We’re advocating for sustainable, resilient food systems to address unprecedented, accelerating pressures that are already disrupting production and threatening food security. By redirecting environmentally harmful subsidies, the money can be used to support the adoption of regenerative agriculture and the shift towards healthy and sustainable, plant-based diets. We’re also pushing for a broad-based, accelerated transition to renewables to ensure energy access and energy security in a carbon-constrained world.

Why is COP27 relevant to business?

According to a 2020 survey of global economists, the world could experience a 10% reduction in GDP if we continue with business as usual.

At Unilever, we know climate change poses a profound risk to our business, through impacts on global supply chains, food security, water access and on the communities we serve. Already, extreme weather events have disrupted global supply chains, and adversely affected the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.

Over the coming years, climate change is likely to further impact crop yields and increase sourcing costs. Increasing water scarcity could affect our consumers’ ability to use our products.

Businesses must be part of the solution but can’t do it alone. We need policy frameworks that provide clarity and credibility, and incentivise clean growth and investment in low-carbon innovation and building resilience.~

Unilever is determined to play its part

We believe that the businesses putting sustainability and climate at the heart of their investment plans, in line with growing demands to do so from investors and consumers alike, will be the ones to ultimately prosper.

That’s why we’re working hard to decarbonise our operations and value chain and to increase food system resilience through regenerative agricultural practices that protect nature.

Our Future Foods commitments are working to transform global food systems and reduce the impact of waste. Our Home Care business is replacing fossil-fuel-derived carbon in our formulations with renewable or recycled carbon by 2030 – a move estimated to save product emissions by up to 20%. Together, our brands are investing €1 billion in climate and nature projects between 2020–2030. And we’re taking our biggest step yet with our suppliers, asking them to halve their emissions this decade.

We have a lot more to do to reach our climate goals, but we’re confident we can do it. We were one of the first companies in the world to put our decarbonisation plan to a shareholder vote, supported by 99.6% of the votes cast.

We were also proud to be a Principal Partner of COP26 last year, when countries made stronger commitments to keep warming below 1.5°C and to move from negotiation to implementation. But while some of the world’s largest economies have taken significant steps forward, global action still doesn’t meet the speed and scale required to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

Collaboration is key

No single company, value chain or industry can deliver the transition we need to tackle climate change. We need cross-sectoral initiatives and system-level policy changes that can shift entire economies to be low-carbon and climate-resilient, and governments must be bold enough to lead the way.

There is scope for more radical collaboration between governments, and between governments and businesses, that can accelerate such system-level changes.

LEAF Coalition

At COP26, governments and companies including Unilever announced the LEAF Coalition, a large-scale public-private partnership to accelerate climate action by providing at least $1 billion in results-based finance to countries committed to protecting tropical forests. This huge collaborative effort will help to keep the climate we all depend on safe, as well as supporting sustainable development.

Unilever is working through multiple platforms to help build these kinds of initiatives, in particular advocating for supportive government policy for investment in renewables and other clean energy sources globally.

Trees and mist on a mountainside

We want to contribute to the scale-up of public-private-civil society partnerships that can help governments to deliver on their international commitments and help businesses to deliver on their net zero targets. The more readily available and affordable that renewables become, the faster our suppliers will be able to decarbonise, helping us to reach our goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2039.

The time is now

The IPCC warned this year that the window for setting the world on course for a secure, liveable climate is rapidly closing.

If the world is really going to tackle this crisis, the most serious long-term threat that we all face, then we need more honesty about the challenges we’re facing and more co-creation of the solutions. We need coordinated public policy, public and private finance, and corporate action that builds public support for big, rapid, real economy changes that can deliver a just transition.

We will only accelerate system change at the speed and scale needed if countries and business act together, and act now.

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