The COP27 climate conference represents an opportunity to move forward, but a significant step-up of efforts will be required in the coming years, according to a former special assistant to President Barack Obama.
Speaking at CNBC’s Sustainable Future Forum last week, Alice Hill was asked if she was optimistic or very concerned about the pace of change.
“Very concerned – we are not acting fast enough and the consequences and the danger [are] … is overtaking our efforts,” Hill, who is now a senior energy fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick.
COP27, which will be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, is taking place at a time of significant global volatility. War, economic challenges and the Covid-19 pandemic all cast long shadows over its course.
During her interview with CNBC, Hill was told that climate change often slipped down the pecking order compared to other global challenges and events.
It was a view she seemed to agree with. “Climate change has suffered from the problem that I learned in the White House,” she said.
“When I worked in the White House, [it] quickly became clear that the urgent would overtake the important,” she added. “Of course climate change is now urgent.”
Despite this urgency, she noted that the war in Ukraine, US-China tensions, and other geopolitical tensions tended to “overshadow the need to work on and continue to drive progress toward addressing climate change.”
This had, she argued, “really been the status quo since scientists first raised these alarms decades ago.”
There is a significant amount riding on the negotiations taking place in Egypt.
On Monday, the UN Secretary-General issued a stark warning, telling participants at COP27 that the world was losing the battle against climate change. “We are in the fight of our lives and we are losing,” Antonio Guterres said.
At the Sustainable Future Forum, Hill was asked about the best-case scenario she could realistically see coming out of COP27.
“That we have further progress on the methane pledge,” she said in an apparent reference to the commitment to reduce methane emissions made at COP26 last year.
Her other hopes for COP27 included getting “serious commitments or improvements in commitments” when it came to funding for developing countries; and better handling of the issue of loss and damage.
Despite the above, Hill ended with a warning.
There were “many opportunities for really important steps forward,” she said, “but I’m afraid that this COP will not offer us the kind of transformational leap forward that this issue is crying out for — and deserves — to keep the planet safe.”