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Communications and engagement at COP
Is it worth it?

COP27 and future COPs. Is it worth investing in communications and engagement?

As the dust settles on COP27, it felt like a good moment to reflect on whether this continues to be an event that is worthwhile investing time and effort into from a communications and engagement perspective. 

What is COP27 I hear you ask? It’s the biggest climate related global event of the year, where the great and the good of the world congregate to discuss the issues facing the world due to global warming and the solutions the World’s nations need to embrace to ensure warming does not go over 1.5 degrees. COP stands for Conference of the Parties and there have been 27 so far. 

One of the most well-known COPs was COP21 in Paris in 2015 where all countries attending agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees.

This is the third COP I have had a direct involvement with. My first was as a brand manager for the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) working on the short lived ‘Act on C02’ campaign. The fantastic film: Age of Stupid, featuring Pete Postlethwaite, was being shown at global premieres all over the world. There was a real sense of positivity in the lead up to COP15, but sadly it was unsuccessful at negotiation phase which led to the need for urgent action a few years later at COP21.

The second was in 2021 at COP26, managing and engaging the many stakeholders responsible for its successful and safe delivery. Again, huge ambition and hope, which resulted in the insertion of the ambition to ‘reduce’ the use of coal in the global energy sector in the end agreement. But no more.

COP27, last November, was Egypt’s turn to host. An estimated 40,000 people attended, and the focus was on delivery and implementation with a particular focus on energy transition for the African continent and developing countries. My work focused on a mixture of event management, sponsorship, partnership development and social media engagement. But after 27 years of these events and the investment of time and money from so many, has COP lost its way somewhere? Does Greta Thunberg’s analysis of the negotiations as ‘blah blah blah’ stretch to the wider events and meetings that occur during the lengthy two weeks COP runs? Or is it still worth investing in as an opportunity for communications and engagement?

The (admittedly not very scientific) consensus appears to be that despite the lack of grand scale change occurring within the negotiations themselves, the meetings held, partnerships developed, and collaborations achieved in the many side events make this annual event still a worthwhile conference to engage in. The drumbeat demanding change and commitment from industry has increased in volume, as have the voices of the younger activist generations, this has driven business to rise to the challenge in a way governments have not. Granted there has been some obvious greenwashing, Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of COP raised serious questions about the event’s legitimacy, however, the announcements from industry to the gathered global media and the speeches from business leaders using this event as the hook to highlight their ongoing commitment to being part of the solution, means this event is still one to include in any annual communications plan focused on delivering net zero.