NGOs slash numbers for COP, look to target FIs on net zero

Despite forecasted low attendance, environmental groups remain ambitious in their expectations for action at this year's conference in Sharm El Sheikh.

NGOs will likely be underrepresented at COP27 next week, with organisations citing high costs, environmental concerns and Egypt’s authoritarian regime as reasons for staying away.

Echoing the response from the investment community, leading environmental groups told Responsible Investor they would either be sending “lean teams” or not attending.

As in other sectors, the carbon footprint of flying to and staying in Sharm El Sheikh has deterred some potential attendees. Others have fallen foul of, or been discouraged by, the repressive government of president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Despite the official billing of this year’s event as the “African COP”, NGOs from the continent have reportedly struggled to gain accreditation, while even larger international groups report facing additional hurdles.

Rainforest Alliance says COP27 has raised concerns about civil society representation that are “posing challenges to inclusive dialogue”.

Market participants are also concerned. One pointed to a “covert participant screening process which appears to filter out groups critical of the social and human rights record of the host government”.

“Should this result in lower civil society participation, it would not be a good outcome, harming the success of COP27,” they add. “Their involvement gives a voice to those most impacted by climate change, yet they are in the position to do the least about it.”

Recent reports of event spaces being restricted at the start of the first week have heightened these fears of unbalanced representation.

Rainforest Action Network, along with other groups, has called for greater protections for civil society, activists and frontline environmental defenders, particularly in countries with shrinking civic space.

Aditi Sen, RAN’s climate and energy programme director, says it is “important for civil society to participate meaningfully, no matter where the conference is held”.

Commitment calls

For those NGOs that will be represented in Sharm El Sheikh, Finance Day – Wednesday 9 November – will be a major focus.

This year’s conference has also been labelled the “implementation COP”, and organisations will be looking to take the opportunity to hold financial institutions accountable for commitments made at COP26 in Glasgow.

It comes just a week after NGOs criticised the Mark Carney-led GFANZ for loosening its target-setting requirements. The high profile body was created in the wake of last year’s COP26 to co-ordinate net-zero ambitions across the financial sector but recently dropped a requirement that members must commit to decarbonise by signing up for a UN emission reductions campaign, called Race To Zero.

The coalition was already under pressure following membership withdrawals from two pension funds, and Meketa Investment Group’s exit from the Net Zero Investment Consultants Initiative last month. Despite the rumours, Carney denied that large US banks had also threatened to leave GFANZ, during an appearance in front of the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee this week.

NGOs have previously complained of “loose definitions” of net zero and unrealistic targets not being met by many financial institutions.

Former deadlines, such as the $100 billion climate finance commitment to support developing countries, have also now been missed.

Finance Watch, which is not sending staff to the conference, describes these initiatives as “insufficient” and said international forums, especially COP27 and the G20, should move the agenda forward to address the under-pricing of risks related to fossil fuel exposure in banking and insurance.

The group is hoping that COP27 will build momentum on the issue, and has written an open letter to banks and insurers calling for a “clear and ambitious definition of net zero” as well as “enforceable, rather than voluntary, net-zero pledges”.

Scaling up ambition

NGOs are also hoping to use the climate conference to encourage the financial community to expand its focus on climate and the environment.

The Rainforest Alliance said measures need to be taken to ensure that COP27 “leads to the rapid implementation of previous commitments, the agreement of ambitious new commitments and further scaling up of ambition”.

Leila Yassine, global nature advocacy manager at Rainforest Alliance, highlights the key role that both public and private sector financial players can make through their investments.

“We are especially keen to meet organisations like the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility and the African Development Bank, which are willing to invest in nature-based solutions,” she says. “Public and private sector finance is urgently needed to shift to these practices, because smallholder farmers cannot bear the investments alone.”

She also stresses the importance of ensuring a Just Transition “that safeguards the rights of indigenous peoples, famers, and local communities on the frontlines of climate change, and that their voices be embedded in every commitment”.

Deforestation will be a priority for NGOs including Rainforest Alliance and Global Canopy. Both are pushing for COP27 to address the issue ahead of the COP15 conference on biodiversity in Montreal in December.

In Glasgow last year, 147 countries pledged to end deforestation by 2030, but there are already concerns that this target will be missed without urgent action.

The groups want leaders to address the insufficient company action on eliminating deforestation, as well as forest and ecosystem degradation. They are calling for emissions from land use change to reach net zero ahead of the 2030 deadline to ensure the success of a 1.5C future.

Amy Fairburn, director of strategic communications at Global Canopy, notes that deforestation should be a particular priority this year given the location of the conference.

“Deforestation belongs high on the agenda for Africa’s COP,” she says. “There is a knowledge gap on African forests that is a key barrier to tackling agriculture-driven forest loss – a major source of global emissions.”

She adds: “Without bringing an end to deforestation, the world will not reach its net-zero and climate goals. It is important that we build on the momentum of COP26 and hold key players, crucially the finance sector, to their commitments.

“What we must see from COP27 is the same sort of momentum we saw in Glasgow last year – collective action, commitments, and dedication to system-wide change.”

The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) and Race to Zero have made action on deforestation an integral part of reaching net zero for financial institutions.