Tensions over COP28 discussions in Dubai are heating up, despite the fact that months remaining before the start of the event. Accusations of hypocrisy and calls for boycotts have risen, and many corporates are trying to thread the needle of ambition and realism. Indeed, COP28 looks to be the most contentious COP yet – and it hasn’t even begun.
Two years ago, COP26 in Glasgow served as a platform for corporate ambition on sustainability, with numerous targets and ambitions announced. Since then, the landscape has changed. Criticism towards corporate sustainability ambitions is a regular feature in the media. Regulatory bodies have stepped up the pressure, with new regulation designed to tackle greenwashing.
COP27 in Egypt featured a more nuanced conversation on who is accountable for climate progress, financially and operationally. Since then, stakeholders have been trying to answer that question – through climate litigation, corporate activism and political pressure.
These pressures are set to collide at COP28 in Dubai this year, where the stage is set for even more scrutiny and scepticism from NGOs, the media and the public. COP28 also features the advent of the Global Stocktake Report, which will assess the world’s collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the agreement and its long-term goals. This report, which will be produced once every five years, will look at everything related to where the world stands on climate action and support, identifying the gaps, and working together to agree on solutions pathways.
The UAE has positioned COP28 as the “Transformational COP of Action”, putting corporate progress on sustainability goals squarely in centre stage – and placing corporate reputations in the cross hairs.
The scrutiny starts early. In 2022, media coverage of COP27 took off as early as September, a full three months before the actual event. This year, the months leading up to COP28 will feature a surge in sustainability coverage, with COP28 providing a platform for journalists looking for examples of corporate inaction and industry-level failings. In the three months preceding COP27, media coverage of COP27 and FTSE100 increased from less than 50 articles to over 400.
And it’s not just the media who will be busy. Corporate sustainability announcements during this period are likely to be rampant. Major sustainability reports, rankings and surveys are often timed to the event by NGOs. Along with increased media focus, employees and customers want to know what role the business is playing on climate. Meanwhile, investors will be looking for signals from policy-makers for potential new regulation or climate ambitions that would influence private sector action.
For corporates, COP28 coverage can be difficult to cut through – and difficult to avoid. Whether businesses are attending or not, they can expect to be put under a microscope, with their plans and progress closely examined by the world’s media and NGOs.
Now is the time to ensure businesses are prepared for that reputational spotlight, by assessing:
- Is your sustainability story set for COP28? Does it meet changing external expectations? And is it connected to the sustainability issues stakeholders are focused on?
- Is your leadership fluent in sustainability and prepared to bring your COP28 story to life? Are they prepared to respond confidently to challenging questions and scrutiny?
- What are the reputational risks your business may face in the lead up to COP? Is your business set up to monitor for any concerns or questions that may arise during COP28?
As the only global policy-focused forum on sustainability, COP is unique, attracting an incredibly diverse set of corporate and political attendees. Nowhere else can you imagine oil and gas majors sitting next to circular economy champions, but at COP, this diversity is what keeps everyone tuned in year after year.
With so much diversity, it’s difficult to predict what’s going to be said, and what will turn into productive discussions with real impact or just stay as a high-level concept. What’s certain is that the conversation gets louder and more crowded every year.
The spotlight means if your business has something to share, it’s going to be much harder to get attention. Equally, if a business has something to which they be subject to scrutiny for, it’s going to be much harder to hide.