Transcript: Building Better Before the Clock Runs Out
An inside look at COP27 through the lens of two experts from The Bartlett who took part.
cop, climate change, ethics, funds, paris agreement, unf triple c, bartlett, world, chatham house, priorities, lilia, big, important, people, loss, fe, issue, attending, financial system, fairness
Christoph Lindner, Effie Konstantinou, Lilia Caiado Couto
Christoph Lindner 00:03
Hello, and welcome to Building Better, a podcast about the cities and human spaces we build worldwide that asks, how can we build better? My name is Christoph Lindner, and as well as being your host for this podcast, I'm the Dean here at UCL Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment. In each episode, I sit down with experts from the Bartlett and from the built environment sector to explore new ideas and solutions for some of the big issues that affect our daily lives, our societies and our planet.
Christoph Lindner 00:44
This month, the 27th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties or COP27 was hosted in Egypt. Over the past fortnight heads of state, ministers, climate activists, and academics have met to discuss how to mitigate and prevent the impact of climate change, how to develop policies that can or should be implemented to adhere to the Paris Agreement and how all of this might be funded. As COP27 draws to a close, I caught up with two Bartlett faculty members about their experience of attending the conference.
Christoph Lindner 01:17
Today, I'm joined by Lilia Caido Couto, Lilia is a PhD researcher at the Institute for Sustainable resources studying the socio economic impacts of investing in renewable electricity sources in Brazil. She is also a research fellow in the Global Economy and Finance program at Chatham House and has served as a chapter scientist and research assistant for the IPCC AR6 mitigation report and has worked as a consultant for the United Nations Environmental Program. She represented the Brazilian business sector at COP21, and COP22.
Christoph Lindner 01:54
I'm also joined by Dr. Effie Konstantinou, Associate Professor at the Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction. Effie's award winning research focuses on the ethical dilemmas faced by senior leaders and professionals in projects designed to address grand challenges such as climate change. She was chair of the knowledge and learning special interest group at the British Academy of Management and she is former Assistant Director and Head of Strategic Initiatives at the Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction. She attended COP27 as part of the Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction team of delegates.
Christoph Lindner 02:37
So Lilia, and Effie, you were both on the ground in Egypt. And for most of us who have been reading about COP27, we'd love to hear what it's like in person,
Effie Konstantinou 02:49
I would say it is extremely busy. There are 45,000 people who are attending these very big meetings, which is the COP27. And fundamentally, what really surprised me was the openness. That's the culture that we could see at COP27. Everybody was very prepared to talk, people were meeting on the buses, they were meeting on the way to the conference center when they were waiting in the queue to get something to eat. And I was very much surprised from this idea of coming together, sharing ideas, talking with one another, trying to understand what are the needs and the aspirations of the different nations and having a what I perceive to be a very genuine interest in finding a common thread in the negotiations.
Christoph Lindner 03:43
Lilia, what was it like for you on the ground?
Lilia Caiado Couto 03:45
Yeah, I totally agree with Effie. It is such a rich environment full of ideas emerging. Because basically what we have there, of course, we have the negotiations going on between the parties. There are like the states, the countries, but then we also have loads of different pavilions. There are government pavilions, but also, multilateral institutions have, paviliions, civil society initiatives. So for example, there is a UK pavilion, but there's also like an European Union pavilion, a World Bank pavilion, IPCC also has won the Women Business College. So we have huge opportunities to discuss all of the different aspects of climate change. So this is really the most interesting thing about the COP. It's not only to follow the negotiations, but to meet all of those different profiles of officials, specialists, researchers, working on climate but in several different aspects.
Christoph Lindner 04:48
So before we started our recording, you were sharing that Effie and Lilia, you did not see each other at COP. Lilia, you were part of the Chatham House delegation and Effie was part of the UCL delegation and I'm wondering, what for you were the goals that you wanted to achieve through the participation?
Lilia Caiado Couto 05:09
Yeah, so I represented the Global Economy and Finance program of Chatham House. So I was the odd one out in Chatham House delegation, because most of my colleagues, they are part of the Environmental and Society Program. So at the Global Economy and Finance program, we follow really the climate economic policymaking agenda, which is quite specific, like the transformation of the financial system that I was very happy to see in the final decision of the COP. And like fiscal policy, monetary policy, Green Central Banking, so I was there like I was the only one there to really follow this kind of economic agenda. So I spent a lot of time at the World Bank pavilion, for example, but also like the the network for greening the financial system, and other actors that I follow their were there.
Christoph Lindner 06:01
What about you Effie, what was your goal in attending cop?
Effie Konstantinou 06:05
So I am completing this study now, which looks into the ethical dilemmas that senior leaders and experts face when they are addressing grand challenges. And I was very much interested to see how people respond to the issue of ethics. So all of my background is in business. And I understand the private sector very well. But COP was an excellent opportunity for me to engage with people who are in policy and to see all of these myths that we have in our minds that there are no ethics, people are not concerned about ethics, they are just serving economic priorities or environmental social priorities, is there any debates about the ethics and I was very pleasantly surprised that in all the pavilions that I went to, and then all of the delegations that I spoke to, people just immediately took up the issue of ethics. And they understood how important it is. And they explained how important it is in their work and in their plans for the future to have a better understanding of the ethical dimension of climate change in terms of who should be paying for climate change. What is happening with the least developed countries, the even the emission inventories that the different parties are submitting, and how tight those targets are, or if they could be tighter, or the just transition to a net zero economy, all of these priorities, I found the issue of ethics resonated with addressing these priorities. And that was a very significant insight for me that I don't think I would be able to have in any other way apart from attending COP and talking to these people.
Christoph Lindner 07:50
So we've been talking a little bit about your experience of attending the conference, and wondering if we can shift a bit to the substance and outcomes of COP27. What was the purpose of COP27
Lilia Caiado Couto 08:05
COP27 was called the implementation cop, right? Because we have the Paris Agreement that dates back from 2015, COP21. But then there was the rulebook of the Paris Agreement that took many years to get finished. And it was finished by the end of 26, in Glasgow, and now it's time for implementation of the agreement,of Article Six of the agreement, for example, that is about carbon markets, emission reduction trading, we also have Article Two about finance, there was-is a big topic of the COP decision. But what was most explored was the loss and damage issue. So this is something that has been left to the side for a very long time. Getting back a little to Effie's point like that, when we go to the club, we get to see very different views of groups that we don't normally talk to. So the small island developing states are, are a group that really use the COP to make their point. We don't talk a lot about loss and damage here in the UK, not even in Brazil, to be honest. So this is a big topic for the small island develop developing states, they managed to put the 1.5 degree go into the Paris agreement. And now it's really important for them to talk about loss and damage and to get compensation for loss and damage because they emitted the least greenhouse gas and they have the harshest impact. So this was a very big topic of this COP. And in the end, the decision of the COP also has the creation of a specific fund for this kind of loss and damage compensation.
Christoph Lindner 09:51
So the the main goal of this COP was to move to the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Why has that agreement not been implemented sooner, why do we need several years and two COPs later to get to the point of actually implementing what we identified wasn't urgent and important to do?
Lilia Caiado Couto 10:13
Yeah, actually, six COPs later [laughs] It's a very good point. It's a very good question that also brings us to the meaning of the UNFCCC process and how effective it is. It is a negotiation process between 195 parties, countries, governments, so it is a slow process, it will never be a silver bullet. So we can not just rely on the UNFCCC process to see action, climate action. It's a very good question. And like I did a webinar with Chatham House two days ago. And we got this question a lot like, what what is really the meaning of the UNFCCC is it effective? Because it's so slow, because it entails so much negotiation, sometimes like this is this is another value of going to the COP to see how tricky a negotiation can be like, sometimes they spend half an hour to decide whether they will use the world should or shall you know, so it is a very slow process. And this is why it has taken seven years to move from greeing to implementing.
Christoph Lindner 11:26
And you've highlighted the issue of loss and damage, which has certainly dominated news reporting on COP27 a Effie your work pays a lot of attention to issues of ethics. And it seems like there is quite an intersection between the ethical and social justice, dimensions of climate change, and the rising awareness and desire to do something around loss and damage and the recognition that the effects of climate change, impact different regions of the world unequally.
Effie Konstantinou 11:58
Yes, absolutely. And it is very interesting that there are all of these negotiations that are going on, but from the ones that I attended, then from other negotiations that I heard that other colleagues observed, there was a distinctive lack of an ethical discussion at COP27. So they were talking a lot about priorities, which are social priorities, or environmental priorities or economic priorities. However, we didn't get, or I didn't get to see discussion about ethics, which would take the form of, for example, trying to understand what a fair transition to net zero means. So this notion of fairness, what does it mean to somebody who comes from Senegal? What does it mean to somebody who is from the UK and from somebody who comes from China. So I think there is a gap there. I think that is why we are not making enough progress at these meetings. Because fundamentally, if we understand each other, the different nations have an understanding of each other's priorities and aspirations and how each nation understands this notion of fairness, then we will be able to pull together the tools and the mechanisms. So the most inspirational talks that I saw, were from the Prime Minister of Barbados, Prime Minister Mottley, who actually said, gave her interpretation of what it is to be fair, and she said, for us fair is survival. And that's a very big statement, because other people would have a completely different understanding, right? It's it's to say that fairness is survival shows that we have very different perspectives. And if we don't have this discussion about ethics, I think we will never move quickly enough to as we are discussing here, we won't have the opportunity to move quickly enough.
Christoph Lindner 14:04
So we've created this fund. It's designed to address some of these issues of fairness and direct resources where they may be needed the most, how is this fund going to work? And do we believe that this is the right mechanism for responding to the issue of loss and damage? Lilia, you work in a lot in the world of finance, what do you think?
Lilia Caiado Couto 14:26
Yeah, that is a very tricky question, because I still want to say that the UNFCCC's very effective and needed and a very important forum. But I am a bit skeptical about these funds, because there are other funds created within the UNFCCC process. The main one is the Green Climate Fund. It was created in the Copenhagen COP in in 2009. It had a target for developed nations to donate to this fund 100 billion dollars per year. It has never reached the target. The year for - there was like the limit for for developed nations to start donating 100 billion per year was 2020. So we have already fallen short. So this is precisely why I work with the transformation of the financial system, greening the financial system, making the financial system climate compatible, climate consistent. And this entails loads of things like green monetary policy, green fiscal policy, but also like financial regulation. And I won't get into the nitty gritty of financial regulators hear of course, but there are many, many instruments that central banks and the multilateral system also can use to green the whole of the financial system and Effie mentioned Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados and she has also called for the IMF, for example, to step in, and they have IMF has now like a climate team, which is big and growing, they created the Resilience and Sustainability Trust. They can be very effective for for the kind of problem that loss and damage means. The-these funds are quite tricky also, because it's quite hard for the developed nations to justify in moments like this, for example, that we have the poly-crises, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, COVID, all of that together, every country in the world is facing debt issues and is trying to go like fiscal efficiency. And it's finding it really hard. We have seen what happened here in the UK recently with the budget, right. So it's very hard to justify to the taxpayer, donate big donations, big enough donations to the UNFCCC funds. So this is why I think these funds, they're really important. And sometimes they are even important to raise the message. So creating a UNFCCC fund for loss and damage is really important, because everyone is paying attention at the COP. So everyone realizes that there is this huge need for loss and damage compensation to countries that have absolutely no fiscal space.
Christoph Lindner 17:19
Yeah, and so for some of the world, climate change is an existential issue. And so the sense of urgency is even more extreme. But it also sounds like in your descriptions of what happened at COP27 that there are some tensions or some paradoxes. So at one level COP27 is a really important global space for discussion for debate and some collective decision making. On the other side, the challenge is so complex it is it is so planetary, and there are so many dimensions to it that a number of critics have described COP27 as a failure and a disappointment. So I'm just wondering, from your perspective, is COP27 as a way of bringing the world together to try and take climate action, the right vehicle for that.
Effie Konstantinou 18:04
I think that was the key message that I took from COP, that it is the vehicle to solve climate change, I think that for me is absolutely clear in my mind, and I've read the criticisms. And I would say to those that from a sociological perspective, we know that society moves so slowly. And the global community therefore is going to move so slowly towards finding a solution and changing that we need to take that into consideration. So for it to change, something might need decades it might need maybe even a century for a society to change. We have these moments of big events that take place a riot or a COP27 or maybe a war. But these are tensions in a society that evolved throughout time and we reach a point where we are ready to do something. For me, COP27 was the time that the world realized that there are very significant damages that come from climate change, that there are some nations which are suffering a lot more than everybody else, primarily the developed economies and societies and therefore there has to be some sharing of the pain. And I think that that is a very significant contribution that this COP27 made the specifics about the fund and how it will work and who is going to pay and who is going to receive the funds. That is gonna take a lot of time simply because all of the social institutions that are supporting the existing state of affairs and the status quo are geared towards not paying for the least developed countries they are geared towards not paying for loss and damage. So we have to, I'm not saying that as an excuse, we obviously don't have time climate change is upon us. And it's happening. But we have to understand and be realistic. The critics, I think, find an opportunity, the harshest critics, the people who are criticizing without being productive at the end of their sentences, I think I think they find an opportunity to make a point. That is really, it's not a point because we have to acknowledge that society just takes a lot of time. And if we don't make it, we won't make it. And that's a very strong scenario, a very prominent scenario that might happen with climate change, we might come to eradicating ourselves from the world altogether.
Christoph Lindner 20:49
Sobering thoughts, Lilia, what are your thoughts on COP27 as a vehicle for addressing climate change.
Lilia Caiado Couto 20:58
So I actually prefer to talk about the role of the UNFCCC and COPs in general, because I have been to four COPs. And to be honest, COP27 was disappointing to me, because I do compare each COP with the previous ones. So I didn't think there was a lot of transparency, I didn't think it was very well organized, I thought the venue was the one that collaborated the least, for the kind of exchanges that we mentioned before, it was very confusing, it was too big. Sometimes we had to walk quite long distances under very hard sun. So I didn't think it was it was a great COP comparing with the other ones. But I think the UNFCCC and the COPs definitely have a huge role in solving this problem. Whatever comes out in COP decisions, or the agreement, like the text, there are the results of the cops, dictates pretty much what the discussions after that and even the research that we do. So I give the example of 1.5 degrees, nobody really talked much about 1.5 limit for temperature increase before the Paris agreement before COP21. And after that, every bit of research that you see about climate change mentions the 1.5 degree at least but but loads of research projects are really like investigating the pathways to stay within 1.5 degrees or anything, the financial system now tries to model and assess what these pathways mean for them and what they have to do to help get there. So I think there is definitely a huge role for the UNFCCC. I was talking about the 100 billion that were never reached, but although this amount has never been reached the GCF, the Green Climate Fund has a very important role to create, for example, like track record of projects in certain countries where investing seems too risky for most of the other funds. So the the Green Climate Fund starts investing in these countries, the fund the first projects, and then you can have like this track record that that decreases the risk of investing in those countries. So it's a super important role that even the UNFCCC funds have. So it as I said in the beginning, it's not a silver bullet, it will never be. But it's a huge and fundamental part of the solution.
Christoph Lindner 23:42
This makes me wonder about the next COP, and if you were each chairing COP28, what would you prioritize? What would the top priority be for you?
Lilia Caiado Couto 23:54
I think for me, it would be the discussion around phasing out fossil fuels or all fossil fuels, not only the unabated, because I think this is something that was a bit of a failure from COP26 that remained in the decision of the COP27. And I think this is really the most critical thing that we have to discuss. This is the cause of the problem. And there, of course many other super important topics that I could talk about here. But since you asked me the one most important, I think it's phasing out fossil fuels.
Christoph Lindner 24:29
That's a good priority and Effie what would yours be?
Effie Konstantinou 24:32
I would call it ethics and resourcefulness. And I would like to have this discussion where people would explain their own understanding of what they believe is the ethical thing what we ought to be doing in terms of climate change, and then find the ways and be resourceful to address the this common thread that I believe certainly exists between even all of the nations that are participating at COP but I think fundamentally, it's the the idea of ethics and an understanding of the extent to which we believe we can solve the problem based on an understanding of ethics based on an understanding of what is right and what is wrong for us as a global community all together.
Christoph Lindner 25:25
We always like to end our podcast by inviting our guests to look to the future, think about the future, and based on your time at COP27, what do you think we need to do to build better?
Lilia Caiado Couto 25:39
So I was thinking about public transportation. This was the example that I wanted to give, because I think this was something that worked really, really well in this COP. We had the free buses for us to get to the COP, we could rely on them. And they yeah, they give an example of how effective it can be if we all take the decision to take public transportation rather than private rather than cars, for example. So yeah, I think for the built environment, the main lesson that I that I bring from this COP is for users of public transportation to prioritize using it and also for policymakers and planners to prioritize public transportation,
Christoph Lindner 26:22
And Effie based on your experience of COP27, what do you think we need to do to build better?
Effie Konstantinou 26:28
I think we need to persist, I think we need to carry on with the discussion and not let go. I think COPs should there should be a 28 and 29 and a 30. And I also think that we need to all think critically try to identify what are the priorities, the important issues, from the different perspectives of the different nations and act politically, so we have to be very smart in bringing all of those ideas together. This is - ethics is not a notion of being you know, soft and well kind always to one another but fundamentally, we have to be very smart in the way that we address these issues and and Climate Change all together.
Christoph Lindner 27:15
All great points, and especially welcome the point about never give up.
Christoph Lindner 27:20
Thank you to both of my guests for joining me today.
Christoph Lindner 27:24
You have been listening to Building Better the Bartlett podcast. This podcast was presented by myself Christoph Lindner, and brought to you by The Bartlett, UCL's Faculty of the Built Environment.
Christoph Lindner 27:37
It was edited by Cerys Bradley, and featured music from Blue Dot sessions.
Christoph Lindner 27:44
I was joined today by Lilia Kaido Couto and Dr. Effie Konstantinou.
Christoph Lindner 27:50
If you would like to hear more of these podcasts, subscribe wherever you download your podcasts or visit ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/buildingbetter. And of course you can follow us @theBartlettUCL. See you next time.