This article was first published in The Long View 2016, an annual collection of long-term thinking from Forum for the Future.
The call for action on climate change and sustainable development has never been greater. But, asks Edward Hanrahan, CEO of ClimateCare, is it all talk?
For the first time, the link between achieving sustainable development objectives and climate objectives has not only been acknowledged but brought centre stage. To all it should be clear: the one cannot be met without the other.
In the last year, we’ve seen a host of new climate and sustainability initiatives and commitments. There was the launch of the We Mean Business campaign – pulling together a range of previously disparate sustainability initiatives across over 360 businesses, and helping them identify the priority actions. There was the launch of a new set of global goals – prioritising actions to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix climate change in the next 15 years. Then there was the UN Climate Neutral Now Campaign1 – calling businesses to reduce and then offset their carbon emissions, supported by leading international businesses including Aviva, Sky, Fuji Xerox and DPD, speaking out about the benefits of offsetting for their business.
In December, this activity culminated in Paris, with a historic agreement: 195 countries agreed to keep the global mean temperature rise 2°C below pre-industrialised levels, and if possible below 1.5°C, with an aim for zero carbon emissions by the end of the century. The importance of the tasks ahead has been reiterated by public and private sector global leaders.
Five key lessons from the past year rang out in all the new commitments:
- Pull your weight – every country, government and business will need to take action to reduce carbon emissions and invest in sustainable development. Stakeholders will be increasingly scrutinising business to see if they are playing their part.
- Measure and report – more transparent and robust measurement of outcomes is needed to drive goals and allocation of resources. More than $21 trillion of investments now have an environmental and social governance strategy.
- Invest in renewables – the cost of renewable energy is declining and there is increasing support around the world to expand renewable energy and to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
- Keep your business nous – economic growth doesn’t sit at odds with sustainable development and can actually improve competitiveness. More than 1,000 business leaders called for carbon pricing to help demonstrate this business case for action.
- Support adaptation in the developing world – and for businesses, investing in low-income communities now, is investing in tomorrow’s consumers, supply chains and workforce.
The agenda is clear, and clearly urgent. But what has actually changed?
When I first joined ClimateCare in 2007, the year 2020 seemed a long way away. Many governments and corporates thought it would ‘all be done’ by then. Now, we’re just four years away, and, for many organisations, the incremental rate of absolute carbon reduction has actually slowed down. Little wonder: the business is growing and the quick wins have been obtained.
We now have a framework against which to take action. We now need to see a greater number of businesses taking action in a substantive fashion. That means taking full responsibility for their climate impacts and funding adaptation and mitigation in more vulnerable communities. This means putting adequate resources behind their sustainability strategies and taking greater strides towards climate neutrality.
The pressure on businesses to demonstrate how they will reduce and manage their social and environmental impacts is growing, and will continue to do so. The criteria for companies to maintain a social licence to operate is tightening, and the real leaders, those who take responsibility for their impacts now, will be in the best position as we move forward.
10 ACTIONS BUSINESSES CAN TAKE NOW
1) Sign up to the Paris Pledge for Action. This international pledge has already been signed by thousands of businesses, making their commitment to limiting global temperature rise to under 2°C.
2) Set a science-based emissions reduction target. Most organisations have carbon reduction targets. A science-based target means that targets are set at a rate consistent with the pace recommended by climate scientists to limit the worst impacts of climate change.
3) Pledge to become climate neutral now. Whilst doing everything in your power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, your organisation will still have a residual carbon footprint. Take responsibility for this and go climate neutral by paying to reduce global carbon emissions by this amount.
4) Join the RE100. The private sector accounts for around half of the world’s electricity consumption. Join a growing community of organisations pledging to use 100% renewable power.
5) Put an internal price on greenhouse gas emissions. Putting a financial cost on the production of carbon dioxide emissions will help focus your business on carbon reduction and strengthen the business case for action.
6) Engage employees with your plans. Taking action on climate change can help bring departments together, build loyalty and trust, and stimulate innovation.
7) Review your supply chain and emerging market impacts. Understanding how climate change will affect supply and demand in your business is essential for long term survival, and unlocking mitigation and adaption opportunities now could create competitive advantage.
8) Align your climate strategy with the new global Sustainable Development Goals. These challenges go hand in hand, and an integrated climate and sustainable development programme makes financial sense.
9) Review your measurement and reporting frameworks. Measure your environmental and social impacts, then consider their materiality to your business. Equally important is robust, transparent reporting on actions you take, to manage these impacts and become net positive.
10) Think about the partners who can help you deliver. None of us can tackle these global issues alone. Can you collaborate with your supply chain, your industry, government or even your competitors? What industry experts do you need to help you succeed?