COP27 Priorities: round & round we go (that déjà vu feeling)


This time last year, I was busy finalising SUEZ’s plans for COP26. Given it was in Glasgow and promised so much in terms of both global and UK leadership on climate change, it was a no-brainer that we would be there. However, upon taking a closer look at the programme, it became clear the event was lacking any real materials focus, and was certainly overlooking the important role of the waste and resources in tackling climate change.

To address this omission, SUEZ, in partnership with the Green Alliance, ReLondon, CIWM and of course the Aldersgate Group, held a series of fringe events showcasing the sector’s critical role in the decarbonisation journey. Hosted at The Studio in the heart of central Glasgow and also streamed live to thousands more virtual delegates, SUEZ kicked off the series setting out clearly the role that a more circular economy must play in delivering decarbonisation with contributions from WRAP, Zero Waste Scotland and UCL amongst others. Our partners’ collaborative sessions focused on critical raw materials and resource security, food waste and behaviour change, green skills and planning for a green transition. We had a lively debate at the event and a busy time afterwards following up with like-minded organisations however, on reflection our efforts to raise the profile of resource efficiency and changing consumption patterns did little to alter the trajectory of the commentary at the COP26.

Progress slows

The last 6 months have unfortunately seen decarbonisation and a range of specific environmental issues falling down the media and political play list, in part in reaction to the global impacts of Russia invading Ukraine, but also because of a myriad of political issues closer to home. We all look to our new Prime Minister to get the environment back on the front foot in terms of re-energising stalled policies, new stretch targets, and critical underpinning legislation, but before this can happen, addressing the energy crisis is a priority. This might provide those of us interested in consumption, resources and the circular economy with a much-needed opportunity to re-centre our arguments and advocate to government.

How better to reduce risk and build resilience in supplies of key global commodities (gas, wheat, rare earths etc.) than to focus on changing our consumption patterns (leasing rather than buying), implementing true polluter pays protocols (those with higher energy usage, energy inefficient homes or poor recyclers pay more), and embracing opportunities for more closed loop systems – keeping raw materials in use through repair, repurposing, recycling and remanufacturing here in the UK? The recently launched BEIS ‘critical minerals strategy’ is very much part of this new agenda, but we need DEFRA and BEIS to collaboratively push forward their other policy reforms around Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), consistent collections and an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) if we are to create the right conditions for greater circularity, enhanced resource efficiency and reduced consumption, as well as investment in the new services and infrastructure to support these initiatives. Can the UK lead the way on this as was promised ahead of COP26?

Looking forward

There has been so much good work done in the UK on the clear value that a truly circular economy can have in terms of creating new green jobs, improving social value, and protecting the environment – just look at the think pieces and reports from WRAP, the Aldersgate Group, ReLondon and the Circular Economy Task Force (with Green Alliance) for inspiration. Many of us in the sector remain positive about what could happen in the short term in terms of realising these goals, but will COP27 this year advance the resource agenda on a global scale?

I have to say that on closer inspection the COP27 programme offers much of the same as Glasgow – with finance, adaptation, agriculture, energy and biodiversity as key themes. So it looks as if we have failed to get resources to the top table yet again, which has presents a missed opportunity for maximising the outcomes of the summit. It is an understatement to say that I am (again) ‘disappointed’ by the lack of circular economy thinking on the agenda, and with only marginal coverage of resource resilience is COP27 going to move things forward>

The UK cannot deliver Net Zero without a much more circular economy, and globally the issues are even more stark with lower recycling levels, growing consumption, and the increasing demand for branded goods and fashions. It is time for the UK to use its global leadership position that the former Prime Minister was so keen on only 12 months ago and lead by example by driving forward new policies that deliver waste reduction, decarbonisation and new, more resource efficient consumer behaviours. I just hope the new PM is listening and sees the opportunity (and not the problems) that this might provide for a UK that needs to tackle economic hardship head on. Time will tell.