Aim Higher: Business can ‘pioneer’ climate agenda by targeting 1.5C pathway

Government and business commitments to align practices with a 1.5C pathway are "practically non-existent", but companies have the chance to become "true pioneers" of the climate movement by raising ambitions, a new report from the Carbon Trust claims.

The report, released at the Carbon Trust’s Sustainability Summit on Wednesday (11 October) notes that just three major corporates – BT, Carlsberg and Tesco – have aligned emissions reductions to a trajectory that would achieve the 1.5C target of the Paris Agreement.

Commenting on the launch of the report, the Carbon Trust’s managing director of business advice Hugh Jones told edie that businesses still had a “window of opportunity” to capture the reputational and business benefits of aligning goals to a 1.5C pathways.

“One of the most important things is to get on the right pathway quickly, the more years spent up above the pathway, the harder it will be to get back and stay on that pathway,” Jones said. “The people who bear the brunt of this is the next generation.

“Action needs to be quick, but married by long-term views and plans. By setting a really ambitious plan, organisations aren’t just setting themselves on the right track, but stimulating the right attitudes among their employees and partners. The pioneers are starting to become a middle group, the 1.5C targets are the true pioneers and we’d expect to see a lot more following soon.”

The Carbon Trust report aims to inspire corporates to raise ambitions and set science-based targets that align with the 1.5C pathway, and draws on the learning of BT, Carlsberg and Tesco to provide advice and frameworks to do so.

More than 300 companies are now signed-up to the Science-Based Targets Initiative, which works as a partnership between CDP, WRI, WWF and the UN Global Compact. Members involved in the initiative have claimed that setting these types of targets was “becoming the new normal”, but just three of the 72 approved targets align to the 1.5C pathway.

Carlsberg has set 2030 goals to achieve a zero-carbon footprint and zero water waste at breweries, while BT has realised energy savings of £221m since 2009, and is targeting 100% renewable energy globally by 2020, without adding significant costs to the business. The tech firm set an 87% carbon reduction target to help meet the Paris Agreement goals in September 2017. The Carbon Trust worked with both companies in setting their targets.

BT’s head of sustainable business policy Gabrielle Ginér added: “Of course this will be challenging, but we can now see a clear path to understand how this can be achieved in a way that is not just good for the environment, but also good for us as a business and for the wider economy. But the only way we can achieve a 1.5°C world is through collaboration and collective effort, so we would love to share what we have done to help other companies accelerate their efforts.”

Alongside setting science-based targets, the report advices companies to switch to zero-carbon energy, transition to zero-carbon transport and decarbonise heat and cooling. Companies already applying these to their operations are encouraged to invest in further energy efficiency measures, push the agenda to suppliers and develop a road map to zero emissions.

One key aspect of the report is its call for businesses to introduce “negative emissions options”. Services or products that actively remove carbon from the atmosphere later this century would be required under the 1.5C pathway, the report notes.

Negative emission options could range from tree planting and offsetting through to innovations that capture carbon. One such example is Interface’s “carbon-negative” carpet tile prototype.

External levers

Jones noted that understanding of science-based targets was still in its infancy, but that a variety of external movements were creating platforms for companies to ramp up ambitions.

“A combination of the right policy drivers and financial drivers are absolutely crucial,” Jones added. “The opportunities are actually coming faster than we would believe, the costs and scope of renewables and technology is coming fast.”

To date, companies that have joined the Science Based Targets initiative represent around $6.5trn in market value and are responsible for 750 million metric tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. The companies span 35 countries, and the US now has 50 firms committed to the initiative – more than any other nation.

Carlsberg ‘s sustainability director Simon Boas Hoffmeyer added: “We are working closely with our suppliers and customers to reduce emissions outside our direct operations, aiming for a 30% lower beer-in-hand carbon footprint. The targets in our Together Towards Zero plan are ambitious, yet we believe that it is necessary to show that a 1.5°C trajectory is possible, where our actions and investments will benefit both Carlsberg and society as a whole.”

Of the 72 science-based targets approved through the initiative, 41 were announced this year. Recent approvals include M&S, Tesco, Mars, HP and Kering. While businesses are mobilising in this area, prospects are less optimistic nationally.

Latest UN projections suggest that meeting national emission reduction pledges established at the Paris climate accord would put the world on track for between 2.9 to 3.4C of warming by the end of the century. These projections were made before the Trump administration signalled its intent to withdraw the US from the agreement.

Matt Mace

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