As we draw closer to World Environment Day, Stockholm+50, and 6 months until COP27, Anthesis, the world’s largest group of dedicated sustainability professionals, comments on where we are now and what needs to be achieved next to move the dial on urgently addressing sustainability.
Discover what Anthesis experts have to say on:
- Cities, Communities & the Environment
- Stockholm +50 Conference
- Sustainable Production & Consumption
- Sustainable Finance
Cities, Communities, and the Environment
As we approach World Environment Day, Stockholm50 and 6 months on from COP26, it is positive to finally see that companies are now increasingly aware that sustainability issues aren’t just environmental issues, they are issues impacting the future viability of their business.
The emphasis on the protection of biodiversity following COP26 raised much needed awareness around introducing nature-based solutions and opens great opportunities for both public administrations and private companies as they continue to address how they can operate sustainably.
Whilst COP26 closed with high expectations and optimism, the process of turning these agreements into specific policies that effect regulations, is currently far too slow to have a real impact.
With COP27 on the horizon, it is essential that we see the following issues addressed:
- Decarbonising mobility and industrial processes must be a non-voluntary element, but rather mandatory and regulated. In urban areas, we need to promote change towards active mobility, and improvements in public transport in urban and interurban mobility.
- Conservation and improvement of biodiversity is key to responding to the climate emergency. It is essential that private companies play an active and responsible role in reversing the worrying loss of biodiversity at a global level.
- We need to strengthen the processes of adaptation to the already inevitable effects through ‘renaturalisation’ of urban areas.
- COP27 must consider the potential for carbon sequestration that is linked to ‘renaturalisation’ and reforestation processes.
The climate and ecological crisis cannot be solved by one stakeholder alone – this was clearly demonstrated at COP26 – but requires collaboration and
transparency from local government, national government, companies, investors, and citizen support.
Whilst we are now seeing cities and local authorities look for ways to implement and finance their climate action plans and the evidence is there to support this, the way forward to make emissions reductions and adaptations to changing climates is still yet to be done at scale.
Cities are now asking what governance structure they need, how to develop projects, how to finance action, and how to ensure this transition is just and inclusive for all in our communities.
The Cities Race to Zero and Cities Race to Resilience have shown how crucial working on both emissions reductions and resilience is. There has been an increased focus on mitigation in the UK and we are seeing the increasing need to consider adaptation.
The latest IPCC report on adaptation has highlighted how cities will be impacted by a warmer climate, with increased flooding and heatwaves, which could result in forced migration and negatively impact people’s health.
More work needs to be done to connect warmer climate issues to climate justice.
It is not enough to simply reduce emissions – we need to ensure we are uplifting marginalised communities who are most impacted by the effects of climate change.
Not enough is being done to connect environment and social issues.
Jason Pearson – Executive Director and Solutions Leader, ESG & Sustainability Strategy (Anthesis North America)
The goal lines on addressing sustainability have permanently shifted for the private sector. Business priorities now reflect a more progressive landscape that has advanced significantly from the last 6 months.
The definition of sustainability success has changed for companies, executives, and Boards of Directors.
For a company to succeed in this new business landscape, it must achieve authentic sustainable performance, consisting of the seamless integration and alignment of its business purpose with larger, collective global goals.
In the past year, the E.U. and the U.S. financial regulator actions on climate, ESG, and non-financial disclosures, combined with increased ESG expectations from many investors, have dramatically elevated the strategic status of ESG programmes for most companies.
Boards and C-Suite leaders are increasingly engaging relevant internal and external stakeholders in constructive dialogue.
Success, both short and long-term, now depends on fully integrating business purpose with broader, stakeholder-informed priorities.
I look forward to a final SEC ruling, in the US, on climate disclosure – and eventually on broader ESG disclosure – that helps companies to communicate with key stakeholders clearly and consistently about these efforts.
As we approach COP27, the conversation needs to be framed more consistently around the UN’s Global Goals. Post-COP26 we have yet to meaningfully address the social and economic inequities that created our climate crisis and which that crisis is likely to exacerbate.
We cannot engage climate change without simultaneously confronting and engaging other challenges we collectively face. Climate change is a human challenge grounded in social injustice. It was created by a privileged few and disproportionately affects those with less privilege.
We will only find a path to solutions if we engage climate change in the context of the full range of human challenges that we face. COP27 must be deeply inclusive of a range of voices and active, mutually respectful conversation across government, private sector, and civil society to succeed.
The interest in and action towards sustainability has increased in the last 6 months since COP26, and we’ve come a long way on our sustainability journey
since the Stockholm Conference in 1972.
But we’re still moving far too slow (particularly considering the highly publicised COP26).
My hopes for the Stockholm+50 meeting are that it will catalyse more action, and that will see a notable change in the number of measures that are really implemented.
I’d also like to see a fairer division of the tasks that need to be carried out, and I’d like to see measures materialise faster with COP27 approaching in 6 months.
While many milestones have been reached over the past 50 years, we have still much to achieve.
Though the IPCC report reaffirms the urgent need for global action on climate change, emissions are higher than ever, and the rate of increase is slowing — the world has one last chance to realize the 1.5°C ambition.
Debbie Hitchen – Director (Anthesis UK), leads the Sustainable Products, Circularity and Chemistry team
Sustainable Production & Consumption
Whilst COP26 highlighted the urgent need to address sustainability, the biggest shift in industry sentiment around sustainable production and consumption
started before COP26.
Perhaps the biggest gamechanger was the BBC’s Blue Planet II series and the ensuing voluntary commitments and policy position pieces.
The conversation and achievements around sustainability have really shifted over the last 6 months, in large due to events like COP26, and it has brought citizens into the debate in a more meaningful way.
The increase in coverage on climate change related events across the mainstream media, social media, and in-person representation has marked a turning point for citizen voices.
Circular economy was one of the biggest missed opportunities of the COP26 discussions. Policy is needed to help countries and organisations to invest in circular systems.
Circularity will not only help to eliminate waste, regenerate nature, and support the transition to a fair and just global economy, but circularity also has a key role to play in delivering the climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement.
Circular economy requires collaboration – no one country, business sector or part of a supply chain can realise the full potential working in isolation.
There are examples of good practice but the impact on Net Zero goals can be magnified through creating effective cross-stakeholder partnerships to deliver new circular business models, supported by joined-up incentives and disincentives across regions and policy frameworks.
It’s hard to know how much of a role of events such as COP26 played as the turning point, or how much was already coming due to impending implementation deadlines.
We have seen a very material uplift in the number of funds seeking to align themselves with either Article 8 or Article 9 of the EU Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulations. There seems to be a very clear move by firms wishing to categorise themselves as “sustainable”. The connected trend has been the significant increase in the amount of ESG or sustainability linked debt.
On a more practical level, there has been slower and more steady progress amongst firms who are seeking to set science-based emissions reductions targets.
The commitments required in terms of actual emissions reductions and therefore actions needed, is still a big call for many.
The most impactful policy in the sector now is the EU SFDR (Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulations) and Taxonomy.
What was important about COP26 for the industry was the emphasis put on finance as perhaps the key agent for change.
Whilst there was (and remains) a strong message that the finance sector needs to stop financing fossil fuel firms that aren’t committed to transitioning to a low carbon economy and net zero, the bigger message was that there was room for the finance sector to be the hero and reallocate capital to the businesses and projects that could save the day.
Arguably some big decisions have been slow in coming as Governments grapple with how to pay for the big energy infrastructure changes required without adding to the cost-of-living crisis.
The invasion of Ukraine and the need for Europe to transition away from dependence on Russian gas, will hopefully force Governments into action. This hopeful will drive a ‘pipeline’ of new renewable energy projects and wider more sustainable development requiring the allocation of sustainable capital.
One could say that some institutions are being slow in the rate at which they are leaving investment in fossil fuel businesses.
It is perfectly fair to say that some such businesses still have an important role to play as society transitions to Net Zero and therefore need access to finance, but some financial institutions seem less willing to wean themselves off such clients whilst also being relatively vocal on their wider sustainability credentials.
My greater criticism would be pointed at policy makers who have the greatest opportunity to speed the rate of change but are being slow. For example, around the larger scale infrastructure initiatives needed for instance to speed the UK’s energy transition.
The industry is keen to reallocate capital, but it needs to see the projects to invest in.
The rise in wholesale energy prices and the impact on the cost of living has to an extent stalled some policies, through fear of the impact on voters’ wallets.
However, at the same time this crisis, now exacerbated by the invasion of Ukraine which has reminded government that fossil fuel dependence is also an energy security issue, may force some of the more difficult decisions.