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COP 27 in the eyes of an NPL’er

Richard Barker, Head of Environment, reflects on COP27

2 minute read

It’s that time of year again when the Conference of the Parties (COP) moves location. This time, COP27 is held in Sharm El Sheikh at the bottom of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.

The move to an African nation has brought about a distinct and understandable shift in the negotiations. Now, the talk is all about loss and damage. Why? Because Africa has not created the climate situation but is starting to suffer its consequences. This is compounded by the fact that it is being told that it can’t exploit its own natural resources to develop in the same way that wealthier nations have benefited from. The question of equity has been around for a while, but Africa has really driven it forwards this time. Despite the apparent ethical simplicity, it is not a straightforward question to resolve, so I suspect the debate will continue for many COPs to come.

What might this change in emphasis mean for the metrology community? The opportunity around loss and damage only really landed after I attended an event on climate attribution science. I’d not heard of this area of science before, but in a nutshell, it is the science that tries to prove that an extreme weather event was caused by climate change.  It is about proving that an event falls outside the ‘normal’ distribution and is the basis on which lawyers might start to sue rich nations and corporations etc for creating problems elsewhere in the world. With lawyers, comes evidence and with evidence the question of data quality and its legal standing. Will this be the early way that metrology can add value to the whole climate information value chain?

Another international climate challenge is around scope three emissions - effectively those emissions both upstream and downstream of a particular process in the supply chain. This is something I talk about more in my recent interview with “The Engineer” magazine. Research suggests that away from the big corporates with the headline products, it is SMEs that dominate the areas of scope three emissions. However, the adoption of climate-relevant strategies is lagging in this segment. If I had to guess reasons why, I would suggest:

  • Lack of understanding of the emissions and how they could be addressed,
  • Lack of capacity to drive change,
  • Tight ‘just-in-time’ contracts that give very little room for SMEs to innovate (think how supermarkets dominate and squeeze the food supply chain).

For policy makers, this is starting to translate into the need for corporates to take more responsibility for their supply chains by supporting SMEs with their transition. Again, this could be an opportunity for metrology in assuring the climate benefit is delivered in return for that corporate investment.

Speaking of policy makers, at a UK Pavilion event Chris Skidmore gave an impromptu speech about his Net Zero review. His focus is very much about making Net Zero happen at national and place level. This is going to require place-based feedback loops and I think the UK Emissions Dashboard that NPL is leading on, is very relevant to this.

The event that Chris jumped in on was about co-benefits and trade-offs of NetZero action, with the emphasis on amplifying co-benefits. of the event didn’t address the problem of split incentives (no one stakeholder receives all the benefits). I raised my concerns with the panel; that people are not declaring trade-offs, and asked them what could be done? The first response was measurement – bingo! Another potential opportunity for metrology.

My most positive observation was the huge variety of people who are all genuinely committed to tackling the climate challenge and who are comprehensively engaged with the subject. I spoke to a young Portuguese Greenpeace activist, who had taken time out from a physics degree, because they felt compelled to do something. A Nigerian businessperson who was trying to offer green finance to the developed world and an undergraduate researcher from Hong Kong trying to figure out how to support reforestation. The enthusiasm and commitment were infectious, and I can only hope more politicians talk to these people.

Till next time!

22 Nov 2022