While there has been a huge effort in recent years by organisations to declare a date in which they will reach their net-zero targets, the IPCC report is very clear that net-zero carbon by 2050 should be the “minimum” target that we should aim for and stresses the importance of at least halving global emissions this decade as an interim ambition.
If we are able to limit global warming by 1.5c then the impacts of extreme weather patterns such as heat domes, flooding, storms, droughts, forest loss and much more, could be limited and less frequent but to achieve this, organisations need to be much more ambitious about what they are going to accomplish over the next 10 years and implement industry-leading carbon reduction strategies.
Already, some businesses are understanding the urgency and have committed to far more ambitious targets with detailed plans as to how it will be achieved. Microsoft will be carbon negative by 2030, Sky has been carbon neutral since 2006 and has also produced the world’s first automatic standby mode for its set-top boxes – encouraging customers to reduce their emissions, and Brewdog is already carbon negative, removing twice as much carbon from the air than they emit. There are many examples where organisations have taken responsibility for their emissions and have gone beyond setting net-zero targets – it’s likely that these will become more common over the next few years and will become the standard approach.
Whilst many organisations are already taking a proactive approach to reducing their emissions, the UK government is also encouraging quicker change through many mandatory and voluntary compliance measures – and they are likely to increase in their scope and requirements are the decade progresses.
Whilst there are many compliance schemes to keep on top of, essentially the vast majority of them, such as ESOS and SECR, are there to help organisations reduce their carbon emissions and provide opportunities to optimise their consumption which should help them to also save money. They often provide a stepping stone into understanding where the quick wins can be achieved and provide insight into some longer-term objectives that can be worked towards.
Whilst many organisations will have set a target to become net-zero by a certain date, a large proportion of those still lack the plans that detail how decarbonisation will be achieved, and further still, some of those with a plan are still heavily reliant on carbon offsetting as a way to become net-zero.
The IPCC report has made clear that carbon offsetting is not the answer to combatting the climate emergency. While offsets have a role in covering unavoidable emissions in the short term (as businesses wait for technologies and production methods to eventually account for these emissions), the report warns that the planet is drastically losing its ability to act as a carbon sink. Recently, for example, forests used by companies such as Microsoft and BP to offset emissions went up in flames in the US during a record wildfire year.
As a result, it’s critical that organisations look beyond carbon offsetting and begin to plan and work through how to reduce the carbon emissions that they are responsible for.
The report makes clear that even if we reach net-zero emissions collectively by 2050, the earth’s eco-system will have already dramatically changed, and while “the CO2 – induced surface temperature increase would be gradually reversed, other climate changes would continue in their current direction for decades to millennia”.
Therefore, it’s inevitable that as surface temperatures continue to rise, there will be an increase in weather-caused disruptions such as flooding and heat extremes which will have a huge impact. Even businesses that work hard to reduce their own emissions won’t be protected from these changes – being adaptable and resilient will be key to long-term success.
In some ways, Covid-19 has shown all organisations what it’s like to be impacted by events outside of their control and as a result, are more likely to truly understand the impacts that climate change could have and make long-term holistic decisions that will help the long-term resilience of an organisation.
Additionally, practical initiatives such as the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) approach to “scenario analysis” provides businesses with a framework to map corporate performance and resiliency against a variety of future physical and financial climate-based pathways. The government intends the UK to become the first G20 country to make TCFD-aligned disclosures mandatory across the economy.
However, adaptability cannot take place without organisations first being transparent in communicating the impact of their business, and this includes effective employee engagement. Employees can be your most effective company ambassadors, and it’s important that they are not only aware and proud, but they also become champions for the organisation. Being transparent through regular communication about the organisation’s sustainability goals and ambitions is an effective way of developing a sustainable culture that encourages adaptability and innovation.
With the IPCC report piling further pressure on organisations across the world to be more sustainable, stakeholder expectations will undoubtedly rise further for them to not only gain a better understanding of what organisations are doing to decrease their emissions but also—and more importantly—receive concrete and repeated evidence of the positive effect that those actions are having. Organisations who are able to report on the progress of their sustainability strategy will likely become the focus of further investment, while those who fail to take their responsibilities seriously may find that they start to lag behind, not only with investors but customers too.