Revolt’s Alan Bryant unpicks what the ‘UAE Consensus’ means for brands.

COP28 concluded with what many hailed as a landmark agreement to “transition away from fossil fuels for energy systems”. Whilst the language used isn’t as strong as many would have liked, the agreement is being celebrated as a big step towards ending the era of fossil fuels.

But what might the agreements and commitments made at COP28 mean for businesses? The decisions made at COP drive global governments’ emissions strategies. While not creating laws, the agreements are intended to drive legislation, regulation and provide financial support. Given that a significant portion of every country’s emissions stem from businesses, these regulations and support packages will impact businesses’ emissions, commitments and strategies too. 

We saw this with the Paris Accord at COP21 – an agreement to limit the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To get there, countries would need to reach Net Zero by 2050. Directly leading to businesses to set their own 2030 and 2050 emissions reduction and Net Zero targets.

A critical conversation for businesses to engage in therefore is the positive role they can play in driving the discussions and progress made at COP and the impact these have on their commitments and strategies.

Question 1: How might COP28 impact businesses’ own ESG commitments?

Many businesses will have 2025 ESG commitments in place and will be in the process of considering bigger commitments for 2030 and beyond. As with the Paris Accord in 2015, COP28 should also act as an input to future ESG commitments. 

While most will already have energy transition commitments in place, the news of COP28 committing to tripling renewables and energy efficiency by 2030 should make you consider whether your commitments go far enough and fast enough.

Question 2: How might you re-assess the role of innovation in driving rapid change?

One area of focus in the COP agreement was “carbon capture and usage”, a technology that whilst potentially promising has not yet been effectively deployed at scale and is seen by some as a loophole to enable oil and gas companies to continue burning fossil fuels. However, the other side of the argument is that the need for fossil fuels isn’t going to disappear overnight; to enable the transition we will need to scale newer technologies like energy storage, heat pumps and precision fermentation while rapidly rolling out renewables and efficiency.

For businesses, this means the need to consider what the role of innovation is in supercharging your own Net Zero emissions commitments and wider environmental impact, and the opportunities that come with the marketing storytelling opportunities this brings to help promote and grow your brand and business.

Question 3: What was omitted in COP28 agreements that could create opportunities to lead?

As well as what is agreed at COP, what isn’t is just as important. These can be areas that are being called for but are going unmet, creating opportunities for businesses to take a position of leadership. 

An example of this at COP28 is the use of the language of “transition fuels”, which really means natural gas. Transition fuels are exempt from the characterisation of “fossil fuels for energy systems”. Natural gas is used in many ways, but a particularly high-emissions example is its use in the creation of agricultural fertilizers. “For energy systems” also suggests that wider fossil fuel use cases are exempt from the agreement, the creation of plastics for example.

Could agriculture and plastics be two areas your business could lead the way in, driving future COPs to take more action in these spaces?

Question 4: What can businesses learn from the way COP operates?

COP stands for the conference of parties, it was designed to combat climate change through fostering global cooperation, an acknowledgement that we’re not going to create the change that is needed alone. This is true for businesses too – the problems we face are too big for one business to tackle alone – making coalitions and co-operation key. So for businesses, what does radical collaboration and co-operation look like? How can you work with peers in your industry to reduce not just your business’s emissions, but the industry’s emissions and beyond?

Question 5: What’s the best way to show up at COP29?

As the famous saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility – and businesses have a responsibility to be an input into the agreements in COP and to push governments to go further in their support of keeping the Paris Accord goals within reach.

An example of businesses using their power in this way is a letter penned to COP28 by 200+ leading companies representing over $1.5trn in annual revenue. The letter, organised by the We Mean Business coalition, called on governments and financial institutions to set enabling conditions, policies, regulations and investments for a just, clean energy transition. 

The fight for a just and rapid transition away from fossil fuels is far from over. Any business serious about hitting its climate goals needs to be vocal, present and advocating for the change that will enable them to keep their promises

With COP28 coming to an end, now is a great time to consider these questions to ensure not just that your business aligns with global government’s emissions priorities, but also to spot the direction of travel from those pushing for more change and to highlight areas in which you can lead the conversation ahead of next year’s COP in Azerbaijan.