The building momentum around climate action has created a real buzz, from grass roots climate action to meaningful corporate engagement. Here we take a look at what it will take to channel that momentum into needed results over this critical next decade.
In late September we saw Climate Week 2019 taking place alongside the UN General Assembly, showcasing global climate action. With additional climate summits and planned activism on the horizon, we’ll start with a review of outcomes from Climate Week 2019, then consider the tactics needed for businesses to achieve their pledges and commitments.
Some Highlights From Climate Week 2019:
- 59 new companies joined the pledge to limit global warming to 1.5°C in accordance with the IPCC’s recommendations, bringing the total to 87;
- The Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) now has 676 companies committed to reducing emissions in line with 2°C and 1.5°C pathways, including 276 with approved targets – the next step after committing;
- Launch of 10x20x30 initiative – 10 of the world’s biggest food retailers and providers coming together with 20 of their priority suppliers to halve food waste by 2030, in line with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 12.3;
- The announcement of the Business Avengers, a group of 17 global companies, with a combined $500 billion of revenue and 900,000 employees, each representing one of the 17 SDGs;
- 130 banks launched the “Principles of Responsible Banking”, committing signatories to align their business with the Paris Agreement and SDGs;
- Greta Thunberg, the teenage founder of the Youth Strike for Climate Movement, moved minds and hearts with a speech to the UN about the need for world leaders to engage with climate change.
Following Climate Week 2019, 30th November is Climate Action Day, a day for all concerned with climate change to come together and act. COP25, the UN Climate Change Conference will now be taking place in Madrid from December 2nd – 13th.
The Decisive Decade
2019 has seen unprecedented support for climate action. At a grass roots level, we have seen the rise of the Youth Strike for Climate movement as well as the controversial Extinction Rebellion movement. The gravity of the situation seems to be hitting the mainstream consciousness, people who were previously unconvinced or unaware of the problem are being introduced to the reality that climate change isn’t just a danger to the rainforests, or polar bears, but is a threat to our human existence on Earth, and specifically the quality thereof.
This increased climate activism creates impetus for climate action on a corporate and government scale, and it’s this kind of action that we need to see if we want to stand a chance against this threat.
At Anthesis, we see the next 10 years as the ‘decisive decade’. Anthropogenic climate forcing, if left unchecked will trigger tipping points beyond which the onset of catastrophic climate change is taken out of our hands. The IPCC SR15 report recommends that we need to halve emissions by 2030, reaching net-zero by 2050, to limit global warming to 1.5°C, which is where the tipping points begin. The question then becomes not why we need to act, but what actions can we take that goes beyond the low-hanging fruit of sustainability measures, to make a meaningful difference?
Actions Beyond Ambition
What actions can businesses take to make a meaningful difference? In general it’s a focus on beyond scope 2 emissions with a few caveats.
The last decade could be thought of as when renewable electricity really came to market at scale as its now relatively easy to contract, procure and account for. In the grand scheme of energy generation and technology development, renewables have been rapid and pervasive and today 200+ companies have commitments to reach RE100 by 2030; many of them have reached this, with many more close behind. Most of the world’s grids are seeing RE contribution rates quickly move from single to double digits.
Transportation emissions are now the single largest GHG contributor in the US, but the EV market is rising to meet this challenge. Following a long stagnation in the EV offering, innovators like Tesla, but even more the old standards like GM & Ford are targeting the mass market with more appealing and affordable options, as well as moving into other segments of the transport economy with public buses, freight vehicles, and light duty trucks on the way (hello 100,000 new Amazon/Rivian Prime delivery vehicles). Like renewables, the success of EVs relies on strength in numbers.
Finally, we confront the 800 pound gorilla of scope 3 emissions, the largest component of most companies’ footprint, typically dwarfing scope 1 and scope 2 emissions by a factor of from 3 to 10. Beyond making direct reductions in material intensity and product efficiency, companies are identifying their largest and most strategic suppliers, evaluating their climate maturity and needs, then developing engagement, training and support programs. These efforts help their suppliers measure and manage their own emissions and allow them to set targets as ambitious as the companies they’re supplying.
Through this pressure of the companies at the top of the supply chain, the next, and significantly larger, tier of companies are being asked to step up to the task of accounting for and reporting their emissions and setting targets. If climate action continues at this scale and pace, then there’s a glimmer of hope of achieving the targets we’ve set.
Where Do We Start?
If you’re just getting on this path, focus should be on the basics: you can’t manage what you don’t measure, so get a handle on your footprint, understand cost and carbon drivers and explore options to make reductions that will get you some quick wins and set near term targets to demonstrate that progress. Look to peers for best practices and guidance, and borrow from them, because if it worked for them it will likely work for you.
If you’ve already done work in this area, take a second look at your energy procurement strategy and consider what it will take financially and operationally to get to 100 RE – that is the single largest and practically easiest step to making significant progress to reducing emissions aligned with climate science.
Beyond that, it’s a matter of looking at your scope 3 emissions, doing an inventory, identifying hot spots, areas of risk, and exploring how an engagement program can add value beyond just a focus on carbon. If you make products, look for ways to reduce the impact of your products in their use-phase.