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techUK at COP diary: Key takeaways as techUK leaves COP 28

techUK will be at COP 28 from Monday to Thursday this week and this is a daily blog of activities and announcements.

Thursday concluded techUK’s time at COP in a tiring but ultimately productive week. Dubai is a strange place and it was energising to see so many members, stakeholders and colleagues from other sectors and industry associations in attendance. We’re going to be taking forward a new workstream on emerging tech for resilience/adaptation and will also look to work with the UK government on translating the different documents and agreements in to actionable work for the tech sector. As we leave some of my key takeaways are:

  • Businesses will be more ambitious than governments. In what is a hopeful message, a lot of decarbonisation is going to happen anyway as companies set their own targets. We’ve seen KPMG research show that climate and other ‘ESG’ (I really don’t like that term, but it looks like we’re stuck with it!) is a key reason M&A collapses, and a letter organised by Sir Richard Branson’s ‘B Team’ signed by 800 CEOs make some ambitious pledges.
  • The UK has a strong role to play, but recent policy reversals are seeing the UK being taken less seriously in negotiations. The UK is co-authoring the Global Stocktake and is trying to get others to set quicker and more ambitious goals, but the perception on oil and gas licences, approving the Cumbrian coal mine and pushing back measures is that the UK has gone back on net zero (even if the reality of the policy is more nuanced).
  • The tech sector needs to do more. There were amazing tech events and discussions on the role of digital tools, however these were not properly embedded in to the main fabric of the event. The UN Global Innovation Hub, announcements from the ITU and the excellent Climate Innovation Zone were all good, however tech as a solution needs to be part of the main texts and negotiations.
  • Data, data, data and more data. Related to the tech sector, is data. Data unlocks and enables everything, but competing governance processes, differing cultures, varied digital readiness and lack of systems thinking is hindering using this data. There needs to be a much more open and collaborative approach to data sharing and using the best in class emerging tech to leverage the insights.
  • COP has become too big. It was great to meet such diverse stakeholders and have such rich content in and arounf Dubai, but the sheer vastness of the conference comes with major weaknesses. There’s simply too much going on, and focus is diverting perhaps too much away from policy.
  • Bilateral agreements can be really impactful. A key outcome of COP will be a raft of bilateral agreements between countries and these wouldn’t be possible if the event wasn’t taking place. The UK has entered into multiple agreements in recent years with real funding and we’re seeing loads pop up on scientific collaborations, nature restorations, procurement and assistance with rolling out renewable energy infrastructure.

Of course there are still 4 days to go and a lot of announcements, arm-twisting and texts needing agreement and we will summarise the main documents and share our take on it with members when it happens. Hopefully there can be some major breakthroughs on fossil fuels, but from speaking to people close to the negotiations the real hope is that COP 30 in Brazil will see real details on how different countries will get to net zero.

  • ICYMI: A bit of movement of where COP 29 will take place with either Azerbaijan or Germany looking likely. The host rotates between regions and east Europe (which includes central Asia) is down to host next year, but Russia vetoed any EU member from hosting. They support Azerbaijan now relations with Armenia are ‘normalising’ which open the door for a Baku conference. Many countries won’t be okay with this posturing so the default candidate would be Germany as the UNFCCC is HQ’ed in Bonn (UN host countries can’t be vetoed). Bonn can’t accommodate an event of this scale so a German COP would probably be in nearby Dusseldorf.
  • Fun fact of the day: The Dubai Police bizarrely created a ‘COP 28 adventures’ mobile game (download here on the Play Store) where you get to play as a delegate, develop environmental policy, visit fun places in Dubai and for some reason do Wipeout 2097 races. As Jim Belushi said in Jingle All The Way about the knock-off Turboman dull…. ‘it’s fun and educational’!
  • Sighting of the day: A number of stakeholders on the same the flight back, and allowing us productive chat on the value of carbon accounting and disclosures for SMEs.
  • What will tomorrow bring: Thursday was rest day so everyone kicks off again on today (Friday) with a fierce debate on phase-out vs phase-down. To break the deadlock the linguistic focus now is on what ‘unabated’ means, perhaps allowing for a ‘phase-out for unabated fossil-fuels’ which would allow for a reduction (not end) of fossil-fuels if the carbon associated with emissions can be offsetted or captured/stored.

Members are invited to a webinar on 18th December to go through what was agreed at COP, a readout from techUK’s time there and what it all means for tech. Please email for more information.

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