Nigel Topping: The importance of truth, the sources of hope, and the power of radical collaboration

COP26 High-Level Climate Action Champion, Nigel Topping in his closing speech reflects on his three years in the role, and the collective task before all of society. By COP26 High-Level Climate Action Champion, Nigel Topping | November 18, 2022

Last week I met seven young children the HLCs [High-Level Champions] had supported in coming to COP27.  My friend Rama lined them up and sat me down in front of them. He told them that I worked for them, that they were my boss, and asked them to interview me! They asked me many questions. But what struck me most was Genia, a 12 year old boy from the Torres Strait Islands who looked me in the eye and said, “I don’t want to be a refugee.”

As we near the close of COP27, I reflect on my three years in the role and our collective task to ensure a just outcome for the vulnerable and young people of our world. With Genia’s words fresh in my memory, three things are top of mind: The importance of truth, the sources of hope, and the power of radical collaboration.


The truth is that 1.5C is not a target. As Earth systems scientists remind us: 1.5C is a limit. A limit anchored in physics: beyond which we unleash tipping points to hell.

The truth is that NSAs must be held accountable for delivering on their commitments, and that we increasingly have the tools to do that.

The truth is that voluntary action alone, although welcomed, will not get us to where we need to be. So we must move quickly from a groundswell of voluntary momentum into ground rules for the global economy.

The truth is that we are far, far off track from where we need to be.

But we must not give up hope. Instead we must imagine better times ahead and unleash the incredible ingenuity of humankind.


What gives me hope is the action of thousands of communities, businesses, cities, and states across the world.

What gives me hope is the evidence of change we see that comes from these actions.

What gives me hope is the knowledge that this change can be transformational.

What we see is a critical mass of NSA actions to keep 1.5C alive while also working with the most vulnerable communities to adapt and build resilience.

What we see is the evidence of innovation on mitigation and adaptation everywhere — when you put it together, it matters.

In this crucial year of taking stock on global action by countries, we know commitments made by non-State actors will go way beyond what is currently accounted for in the NDCs, if delivered and scaled up at a sectoral level.

What gives me hope is the knowledge that this is happening. The past five years have confirmed the pattern of the transition to the net zero economy is following a kind of Moore’s law of industrial transformation – technology deployment going up exponentially, as costs come down in a predictable way.

From renewables that are now the cheapest form of electricity almost everywhere in the world to EV sales increasing over 60% each year.

We’re seeing this same story of exponential transformation in sector after sector — from steel to shipping, hydrogen to cement. But we don’t see this in reports because it still flies under the radar.

And we also see the Global South taking a lead, with launches here at COP27 of the Africa Just and Affordable Energy Transition Initiative, the Africa Food Systems Transformation Initiative, the Africa Net Zero Concrete Group, the Africa Carbon Markets Initiative, and momentum by the six African nations leading the Africa Green Hydrogen Alliance to sustainably industrialise Africa – with plans that could add up to 12% to their current GDP.

This is the Breakthroughs Agenda – where we see countries, and NSAs representing over 50% of GDP, developing short-term plans and implementing them in such a way that will drive demand, unlock investment, scale up production and bring down the cost of net zero technologies to make the clean option the cheapest option everywhere in the world by 2030.

We are excited to see that same pragmatic, engineering mindset being applied at this COP to adaptation and resilience: with the launch of the Sharm El Sheikh Adaptation Agenda – in partnership with Egyptian COP27 Presidency, Race to Resilience and the High Level Climate Champions and Marrakesh Partners.


All this momentum is driven by the power of radical collaboration, when governments at all levels, the private sector and communities unite around shared goals and shared values and share resources and unique skills and expertise to problem solve together.

This experience of exponential growth beating linear change needs to be firmly understood as part of the Global Stocktake next year.

To give you two examples of this radical collaboration in action just this week:

  • Roof Over Our Heads — a global, grassroots, women-led programme harnessing the skills of those women,  engineers, builders and architects and cities to help millions living in informal settlements build climate resilient homes.
  • The Mangrove Breakthrough bringing together NGOs, Governments, industry, and communities to mobilising 4 billion USD by 2030 to conserve and revitalise coastal ecosystems and protect 15 million hectares of mangroves globally and millions of jobs by 2030

As my good friend Mahmoud reminds us, these actions are not only good for climate they are good for sustainable development. And we know that net zero, nature positive is the development story of the 21st century.

As this is the final time I will address you as Parties in this role. I want to thank you for your support in creating the High-Level Champion role, the Marrakesh Partnership, and the encouragement you have given us to be bold and innovate. I want to particularly thank Mahmoud Mohieldin and the Egyptian Presidency.

And I want to implore you: Please look at the transformative potential of the Sharm El Sheikh Adaptation Agenda, and the Breakthrough Agenda.

Take courage from the Race to Zero and the Race to Resilience and the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero. And take confidence from the amazing team supporting current and future champions, and the family of MP [Marrakesh Partnership] all working to implement the five year plan we presented and you welcomed last year to support you to reach the Paris Agreement.

Take heart and let’s use the Global Stocktake to find opportunities to embed this momentum in your national plans.

We can transform so much faster if we dare to imagine — and if you back your people; your businesses and your banks; your communities and your cities; your Indigenous peoples and your farmers; your children; your young people; your elders. THEY ARE AMAZING.

Unleash them to deliver our moonshot or as Mary Robinson called it – our Project Dandelion. Not a moonshot to demonstrate one country’s industrial prowess. But a moonshot, or Project Dandelion, to ensure Genia does not become a refugee and that we save everyone and everything we hold so dear.

Watch the full event here

Read more: COP27 Action Agenda: Progress & Priorities


UN Climate Change High-Level Champions: Contribution of the ‘All of Society’ Global Climate Action Agenda at COP27

The UN Climate Change High-Level Champions have taken stock of the contribution of non-State actors at COP27 with their closing event – COP27 Action Agenda: Progress & Priorities – wrapping-up a two week programme of over 50 events.