Soho House went to COP27. Here’s what we learnt
Jamila Brown, our Head of House Foundations, reports from the world’s biggest climate action conference
Tuesday 15 November 2022 By Jamila Brown
Last week, I was invited to speak at COP27. It’s my job to effect positive change both socially and environmentally at Soho House, so it was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down. This was my first COP, and I really had no idea what to expect. Two of our members, Aisling Connaughton and Jenn McGarrigle of Cyd Connects were headed there as well, so I partnered up with them for the three days to navigate it all. From someone who knew nothing going in, here’s everything I learnt.
'From Sierra Leone to San Francisco, there’s so much in development that’s actually working, providing hope for a decarbonised future.'
Jamila Brown, Head of House Foundations, Soho House
What is COP27?
COP stands for Conference of the Parties. It’s an annual event that brings together governments which have signed the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol or the Paris Agreement. World leaders, ministers and negotiators agree how to jointly address climate change and its impact. This year’s conference was the 27th. Activists, actionists (a new word I learnt at COP), lobbyists and concerned citizens gather to make their voices heard on this important topic.
Where did COP27 take place?
It took place in Egypt, the first-ever COP in Africa, and the event was hosted in Sharm El-Sheikh, the famous resort town on the Red Sea. If you’ve not been, it’s an interesting place. There didn’t seem to be an actual town, rather a long straight highway with Vegas-style all-inclusive hotels to one side and undeveloped desert to the other, ending in an airport (from where a direct flight to London pumps out 264kg of carbon per person into the atmosphere, FYI). From the manicured landscaping to Westernised menus, if you were coming for an authentic Egyptian experience, you weren’t going to find it here. But we were here for COP, not for a holiday.
What does COP27 look like on the ground?
COP is divided into three key areas. First up, The Blue Zone, which is where the actual conference takes place. The Sharm El-Sheikh conference centre plays host to VVIPs – politicians, government bodies, national ambassadors, and UN-recognised NGOs. Rishi Sunak’s famous meeting exit was a Blue Zone moment. The agenda this year included solutions to the climate crisis, future mitigation, adaptations and resilience, and loss and damage finance (a hot topic). Incidentally, The New York Times reported that of the 110 national leaders who appeared at the global event on Monday, seven were women.
Next up is The Green Zone, a more publicly open space for folks to a) take lots of photos against Instagrammable COP27 backdrops, and b) engage with COP27 sanctioned community hubs. This zone is the platform where the business community, youth, civil and Indigenous societies, academia, artists and fashion communities from all over the world can express themselves via talks and symposiums. Despite the area being abuzz with people, I couldn’t shake the Fyre Festival vibe I was getting. Maybe it was the white tents?
Finally, there’s the Fringe events area that’s similar in terms of mission, but effectively showcases corporate sponsored pop-ups across all the resorts, each competing to take the title of best in show. Featuring great views, comfortable seating, free food and drink, and of course step and repeats covered in company logos, these events had packed programmes from morning until midnight with interesting speakers, round tables, panels, live podcast recordings, networking events, dinners, and afterparties. There was even an Innovation Hub sponsored by Saudi Arabia’s Neom City.
Who was at COP27?
One thing I found odd about the conference was how insular it felt. There was a lot of being talked ‘at’, but there were also some really inspiring moments. Some highlights for me included the below:
– At Bloomberg Green, Google’s chief sustainability officer Kate Brandt and one of her predecessors Aimée Christensen discussed how they’ve been using their data to help people make more environmentally positive changes in their day to day lives, such as a new feature on maps that shows the most environmentally friendly route with a similar ETA.
– Eva Kruse, Pangaia’s senior vice president of Impact spoke at The Extreme Hangout about the company’s many material innovations to foster a carbon-free textile future, which it open sources for other businesses and showcases through the clothing brand (which is actually the smaller part of what they do – who knew?).
– At Goals House, Christiana Figueres, the architect of the 2015 Paris Agreement, talked about where we were then when we agreed to work towards keeping global warming to under 1.5 degrees, where we are now (on track for 2 degrees+), and how our future could play out.
Above: Kate Brandt, Google CSO. Image @Hannah_Polly | Twitter
The question of the week: will anything actually come of this?
I left COP in two minds about it all. I was a bit overwhelmed by the commercialism, and with everyone shouting about how their approach or position was superior, wondering how we could ever all come together to get a grasp on the climate crisis. But I also felt optimistic. Despite it all, one thing was really clear, innovation and successful case studies are widespread and far reaching. From Sierra Leone to San Francisco, there’s so much in development that’s actually working, providing hope for a decarbonised future. To echo the overwhelming message of COP27, now’s the time to put it into action.
Jamila Brown is Head of House Foundations, Soho House’s social responsibility and sustainability programme. We are committed to ensuring our business does as little harm to the environment as possible, striving to make a positive impact wherever we can. We set goals to become net zero on carbon emissions, to increase energy efficiency in our sites, reduce waste, protect our surroundings, and source ethically. You can read more about our plans and progress in our ESG report here.