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December 7, 2023

Editor’s note: is COP working, and should it be this big?

COP28 conference hall event
Peak-size COP? There have been ongoing discussions about the formula and size of the UN climate conference (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The latest edition of our Sustainable Views newsletter

Dear reader,

If you’ve been following COP28 closely, a few things will by now be obvious: first, the blistering friction between the (justified) need to be inclusive – both from a societal and a business perspective – and the logistics of a mega-event seeing more than 80,000 people moving in and around conference areas, pavilions and hotels where official and side meetings happen.

Is this peak-size COP? I know there were discussions around its formula even before the geopolitical impediments facing next year’s summit (Reuters has the latest about this, here), with some telling me the debate about the size of the UN climate conference – and ancillary dealmaking – was ongoing.

Second, financing the transition seems one of the biggest and most urgent hurdles to overcome. Dozens of new pledges are coming in, from governments and the private sector. During a press conference yesterday, US climate envoy John Kerry energetically reiterated the need to channel capital towards green activities and that, irrespective of political leadership, when the world’s big companies are behind it (as they are, he said, pointing to the long list of big American groups freshly committing to finance climate adaptation) net zero will just happen. It’s a matter of time, though.

But one has to wonder – if climate change has clear business impacts, as policymakers including Kerry tell us, have corporate bosses only now realised its urgency? 

And is net zero this expensive (in the trillions of dollars, as we all know) because of delayed action and – as one of our readers put it – because “corporations are hiring consultants and auditors to do the job for them”. 

Our reader adds that “what is lacking is self-reflection” on whether what companies have done so far is working or not, and reviewing future plans and spending accordingly. So, our reader argues, it’s not necessarily the extra money that is needed, but a better use of it. 

As always, I’m keen to hear others’ thoughts on this. (And my thanks to everyone who’s shared their views with us – my inbox is bursting at the seams right now, but I will respond to everyone over the next few days. Do keep your messages coming!)

Finance was again a big talking point during yesterday’s talks, dedicated to a variety of topics including the built environment and transport. Should you have missed it, you’ll find a brief summary of what happened in our latest COP round-up.

Sustainable fuels were discussed, with a number of shipping companies committing to a faster use of renewable hydrogen to meet targets set by the UN’s International Maritime Organization. At the same time, over in the UK, the Advertising Standards Agency banned advertisements by three airlines because it found they were “giving a misleading impression of the advertiser’s environmental impact”.

Lufthansa, one of the companies questioned, told the ASA that the use of sustainable aviation fuels and carbon offsets were behind the contested slogan, which invited consumers to use the carrier and “fly more sustainably”. The UK watchdog upheld its ruling.

Meanwhile, in today’s coverage, we have a story packed with data and scientific research about the much-discussed carbon capture and storage technology, which major oil producers (including COP28 host the United Arab Emirates) say will support the continued use of fossil fuels. Opponents, however, point to CCS’s unmet promises and its huge costs.

We also bring you a report by the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank arguing for the inclusion of nature in economic considerations and for the creation of a nature-as-infrastructure “asset class that commands increasing levels of investment and regulatory attention”. Find out more in our knowledge hub.

With COP28’s “nature day” on Saturday, we thought you might also be interested in the views of a nature expert: Rob Stoneman of The Wildlife Trusts. He told Philippa about “farmers that are in desperate trouble already” and how (good) carbon markets, coupled with nature tourism, can help. 

Also, ahead of tomorrow’s “youth day”, you may wish to revisit a recent opinion piece by young activist Vladislav Kaim, addressing the struggles of climate activism and how to overcome them.

Come back to see us online in a few hours for our next COP28 review – we will be monitoring announcements even during today’s “day of rest”. If you haven’t yet, and this missive was forwarded to you, register here for a free trial to access all our content.

Otherwise, we’ll pop back in your inbox tomorrow.

Until then,


Silvia Pavoni is the editor of Sustainable Views 

A service from the Financial Times