With this year's Conference of Parties (COP28) climate summit having come to a close, we catch up for a chat with our CEO Amelia Linzey and Industrial Group Director Jimmy Walsh, who attended as part of a New Zealand business delegation.
COP is the annual forum and main decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This year’s conference, held in Dubai, UAE, was the first where Aotearoa New Zealand sent a business delegation, convened by New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE).
How would you describe your overall impression of COP28?
Overall, my impression would be "everything, everywhere, all at once." It’s as if the population of a small town were all in the same conference – discussing action and progress on decarbonising our economies, building resilience and addressing the multiple facets of what makes a 'fair and just transition'.
On one hand, the conversations seemed careful and measured, and on the other, they were strong and passionate, with attendees already taking real action. Topics ranged widely from the fashion industry to the psychology of climate anxiety, to wood burners, energy, construction and transport– and everything in between. This really highlighted the universality of our global climate issue, and how it touches every aspect of our lives.
Finance discussions, on topics ranging from initiative funding to banks backing decarbonisation, attracted triple the audience compared to other sessions. The impact of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 in the US, as well as policies in the EU and investment in UAE, are tangibly driving both decarbonisation and challenges for resource sovereignty.
While progress may seem slow, we need to look back and see the substantial strides we have seen (e.g. in increasing development in renewable energy and development of electric and low-emission transportation since 2015). It is definitely a case of 'not fast enough', but also a case of growing momentum.
The overall impression was one of being overwhelmed by the scale of the largest global conference in history. The scale of the challenges we face, and the number of sectors, stakeholders, and perspectives involved were truly staggering.
While we went with some targeted sectors and sessions in mind, I don’t think either of us were prepared for the immensity of COP, and just how many facets of the world we live in are now represented. Beyond an environmental conference, COP has grown into the largest international development convention, hosting sectors from health to business, finance, insurance, regulatory bodies, NGOs, advocacy and philanthropy, amongst others – truly a comprehensive global forum.
The big learning for me was really an appreciation of the complexity, interconnectivity, interdependence and the current progress in many areas. This experience highlighted to me the monumental task of uniting 8 billion people towards a single purpose.
What was it like to be part of the first New Zealand Business Delegation to attend COP?
It was a fantastic opportunity to be a part of the New Zealand Business Delegation, it permitted access to negotiation discussions while also allowing us opportunity to traverse into private sector discussions. Networking with fellow delegates provided a positive platform for sharing and discussion, and we are proud to be able to show our support for the climate action community of Aotearoa, of the Pacific and, of course, Australia.
It was important to us at Beca, as a firm with deep roots in New Zealand stretching back to our founding in 1920, to be there as part of the New Zealand presence, to show our support and our drive to help provide practical, and innovative solutions to aid in New Zealand’s transition. In such a large conference, with every country in the world sharing their positions and business aspirations, New Zealand needed to do the same.
It was a great opportunity as well, to connect with a range of international companies that Beca has important relationships with. These leaders are normally based in locations as far afield as Houston, London, Dubai, and Copenhagen, as well as closer to home in Singapore, Australia and the Pacific so meeting them all in one trip was a great add-on to the conference.
What were your key takeaways, for Beca, and the markets and sectors we work with across New Zealand, Australia and the wider Asia Pacific?
Our Beca areas of focus in decarbonisation, climate adaptation and resilience, and resource stewardship are well aligned with the global mission expressed at COP28 – and indeed were instrumental to our drive to attend the conference.
While there is clear technological and financial change coming down the line, the picture is not currently so clear when it comes to the political and regulatory changes needed to adequately respond to climate change.
However, it was apparent at COP that Australia, in particular, has high ambitions to thrive through the transition, with plans to reduce carbon emissions, become a leader in renewable energy, and support communities and the environment in climate adaptation.
One of my key takeaways, as we look at solutions and mitigations for those at the forefront of climate change impact, is that we can likely expect a heightened focus on the Pacific, and a surge in conversations in Australia and New Zealand about our responsibilities towards displaced communities.
Australia has announced its commitment to support the Tuvalu population, and I believe that New Zealand will also need to consider how this can be done fairly, and effectively, for our Pacific neighbours, and what this may mean for estimated migration.
The commitment to reductions in methane, largely from asset management and clean up, will increase the global focus on methane. This is especially relevant for New Zealand, and whilst reductions in absolute terms is important, we may need to be lateral about where we achieve those reductions across all sectors.
This COP was talked about being where we move from commitments to action. How do you think this COP lived up to this expectation?
While the final text could be seem as incremental in a world that needs significant change, there is a lot of sectoral and financial progress that are moving things forward. Many of the commitments around renewable energy, food and agriculture systems, industry, and buildings systems are a cause for hope.
As said at the beginning, it’s slow progress but definite momentum. Multi-lateral partner agreements are always going to involve complex negotiations and compromises. To me, the impact of higher business community participation really emphasised a shift towards action and specific examples of implementation on the ground.
There was much talk of support for hard-to-abate sectors as they look to decarbonise, in what ways can/do we at Beca help these industries?
Many governments around the world are taking a proactive approach to support industry in the transition. For these governments, they view the transition as a competitive advantage and have an eye on the long-term industrial strategy for their countries.
In New Zealand and Australia, we are supporting the decarbonisation journey for several hard-to-abate sectors like steel making (which comprises 8% of total global emissions), aviation (comprising 2% of total global emissions) and agriculture.
The key takeaway here for me was that policy matters. How do we support an industry with high asset investment requirement to support transition? This is being recognised in other regions and will be important for New Zealand and Australian operations.
Based on the last week or so how do you feel the world is doing in the fight against global warming, and what comes next in that fight?
At the conclusion of COP28, the agreement offered incremental progress at a high level, with tripling of renewable energy capacity and signalling the 'beginning of the end' of the fossil fuel era. We hope that next year’s COP will lift the bar again to act on global climate change.
One can either find hope or feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that is climate action. I choose to be hopeful, as pessimism only breeds inactivity. It’s a gigantic task but, reflecting on the people we heard from over the past week at COP28, it’s clear the world is teeming with dedicated talented people, spanning every sector, NGO, numerous businesses and countries, all striving for change. Each of us must find the small part of the solution that we can contribute to most.
We look forward to sharing our detailed report on this year’s COP early next year.
Amelia Linzey & Jimmy Walsh with Black & Veatch partners Deepa Poduval and Mohamed Abdelsamad