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Reflections from COP27: Seven Key Takeaways

Written by Anita Smith and Marion Kudla in discussion with Felicity Tolley, Senior Programme Manager, Energy Saving Trust and Makena Ireri, Director of Clean Energy Access Research, CLASP

The eyes and ears of the world were on COP27 for two weeks in November, waiting to find out what steps the world’s leaders would take to combat climate change and achieve global climate goals.

The Efficiency for Access team once again had the privilege to take part in various events at COP. Our focus there was on sustainable routes to SDG7, the goal to ‘ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’ by 2030. We aimed to contribute to discussions on how energy access and appliances can strengthen climate adaptation and resilience in the Global South. We have captured our top seven takeaways from our experience in Sharm El-Sheikh below.

1. Big goals, small steps

Overall, it was a COP with mixed results. The decision to establish and operationalise a loss and damage fund for countries most affected by climate change is welcomed and a step forward. But the lack of consensus to phase out reliance on fossil fuels is disappointing and devastating to the 1.5-degree target. A much-needed increased focus on cooling technologies was also sadly missing. However, we did see some promising themes emerge from this year’s event. For the first time, the conference hosted a Water Pavilion, the result of a collaboration of over thirty organisations, governments and companies who recognise the central role water plays in the climate crisis. Flooding or water shortages brought on by drought are both drivers of food insecurity, so it was heartening to see a Food Systems Pavilion and a dedicated to a Food and Agriculture Day for the first time too.

2. Next steps

Reducing and avoiding greenhouse gas emissions is key while working towards SDG7, and off-grid renewable appliances provide the solution. While the technologies and knowledge to adapt to climate change and build effective resilience already exist, what is needed now is an understanding of how best to scale, fund and deploy these solutions.

Speaking in the Resilience Hub, Makena Ireri, Director of Clean Energy Access Research, CLASP (co-secretariat of Efficiency for Access) said “We already have the technical solutions that we need, but we need to fine-tune those applications so that we can maximise and expedite the impact we are delivering for people’s adaptation and resilience. It’s not about starting from scratch but sharpening the tools that we have.”

3. ‘One hand can’t clap ’

To make real headway, community integrated solutions that collaborate with and build on local knowledge are vital. This involves placing trust in the innovation that arises from local communities, the ones who are facing unique challenges in their energy, health and food systems, for example. Local solutions mean looking beyond the macro data, doing more than choosing to work with local manufacturers and suppliers. It means listening to the community being impacted and understanding their needs, fostering local innovation from the outset, and valuing local and indigenous knowledge. Effective, tailored funding such as the Efficiency for Access Research and Development Fund, in place to foster innovative, small-scale solutions that build to a bigger overall impact is also vital.

4. Cash is key

Channelling innovative finance mechanisms into resilience-building initiatives will be a catalytic step towards scaling up impact. In order to initiate the kind of transformative change we need to fight climate change, we need more funding of all kinds—public and private; blended finance mechanisms; a greater valuation of social returns on investment, instead of being motivated solely by financial returns; and efforts that de-risk investments, including data that can help sketch a clearer picture of unique needs, challenges and suitability of solutions.

We will be following the impacts of initiatives like the African Carbon Markets Initiative, which was launched at COP27 and aims to expand Africa's participation in voluntary carbon markets, with interest. We hope to see even more innovative finance mechanisms launch in the coming years as one crucial facet to our global climate response and will continue to add to this discussion with our learnings and research findings.

5. The climate problem is a water problem

According to the United Nations, by 2050, 5 billion people—or around two-thirds of the world’s population—will face at least one month of water shortages due to climate impacts.1 Ultimately, when we think about climate change impacting agricultural productivity, sea level rise, wildfires and extreme weather, we are talking about water issues.2

It is crucial to channel efforts into addressing the water/climate crisis through water efficiency projects, empowerment of farmers to access information on resources and efficiency solutions like solar water pumps or performance monitoring equipment, data on water resources and sustainable irrigation technologies. At Efficiency for Access, we have directed efforts on researching ‘Sustainable Expansion of Groundwater-based Solar Water Pumping for Smallholder Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa,’ as well as the potential of solar water pumps for improving livelihoods and strengthening food security.

6. Gender inclusivity – a long way to go

Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest takeaways from COP27 was the critical role of women in the struggle against climate change, and the existing gap between where we are and where we should be in terms of centering women in the climate conversation.

Women—especially indigenous women—are guardians of biodiversity, and their management of natural resources impacts local communities, as well as the world. “Women produce, select and save up to 90% of seeds and germplasm used in smallholder agriculture, and also play key roles in the multiplication, improvement and storage of seeds.”3 If given the same access to productive resources as men, women could increase farm yields by 20– 30%.4

At a leadership level, women remain grossly underrepresented. Using COP27 as a micro-example, country delegations were mostly men, and seven out of the 110 leaders present were women.5 This gender equity imbalance affects the outcomes of negotiations and could continue a trend of overlooking women’s empowerment as an answer to the ecological crisis.

Check out our efforts and insights on gender inclusivity in this blog article, ‘How can we break the bias in energy access?’ and our recently-published report on inclusivity in the off-grid appliances sector.

7. Impacts of climate change on cities

The climate crisis severely impacts disadvantaged populations living in cities. Informal settlements (slums) are also heavily affected due to the impermanence of their structures. Before the issue of energy access ever arises, we need resilient homes for those least able to cope with the consequences of climate change. This presents an underexplored challenge and one the industry does not yet know how to solve. Many cities in the Global South are on a weak grid so stressing cities also stresses their infrastructure, including energy. The work of Efficiency for Access could support resilient energy systems for cities by looking at topics like interoperability.

However, it is a challenge set to get tougher as increasing numbers of climate refugees are displaced and move to cities. We attended the launch of “Roof Over Our Heads”, a cross-sectoral partnership between NGOs and engineering companies to deliver resilient, affordable, low carbon homes which underlines the value of centering local learning to find the most impactful solutions. Campaigns like this one will help cities and informal cities to prioritise climate change adaptation. Whether we are talking about women-centred solutions or climate refugees, we must ensure that no one is left behind.

Across the takeaways listed above, there is one unifying factor that is the secret weapon to building a holistic, united effort: human stories. Stories are powerful ways to put real, human faces to the climate crisis. Sharing stories reminds us that the impacts of climate change are here and are already beginning to change people’s lives. As storytelling creatures, humans understand the crisis better through tales of witness. Stories can offer hope and inspiration when we become dejected about political progress.

The Resilience Hub at COP27 did an especially fantastic job of incorporating stories into their programming through art installations and performances. This was a welcome and unique approach to coming together as a collective to address the climate crisis. At Efficiency for Access, our Human Success Stories showcase the impacts of our work by centering human voices and experiences. Read more about our storytelling work on our blog.

To sum up, it was heartening to see some progress being made here and there, but the climate crisis is just that – a crisis which demands quick, practical action. Given that the venue for this year’s COP was Sharm el-Sheikh, a resort popular for scuba-diving and other water-based activities, the perceived lack of progress felt more like treading water or perhaps quietly drowning.