Business can’t wait for government intervention to tackle climate change
Extinction Rebellion are staging a 2-week global protest. Their aim? To disrupt major cities and call attention to the ongoing destruction of nature in an unfair society. They are arguing that only by overthrowing capitalism will we achieve a regenerative, zero-carbon economy.
And while the pressure is on Government to bring about change, businesses cannot sit back and wait for government intervention to do what is needed in the eleven years we have to turn things around. Business must become part of the solution, or risk extinction themselves, as the world changes around them. Businesses must:
1) Not write off Extinction Rebellion protestors as a collective of hippies and young people
Supporters are multi-generational and include well-respected scientists, politicians, journalists and public figures. They are people who understand what is happening and are frustrated with the lack of leadership and progress.
2) Sit up and take notice that the science can’t be argued with
We have known for decades that climate change is a threat and that we are causing most of the damage through burning fossil fuels, changing land use and wasting resources. Planetary life support systems are creaking with impacts worldwide. Business needs to understand where they fit in systems and then set science-based targets to become regenerative across their value chains.
3) Do more and quicker
Last autumn’s report from the IPCC showed that we need to halve carbon emissions by 2030 and get to carbon neutral by 2050. But this only gives us a 50% chance of keeping temperature rises to less than 2°C by 2100. A recent study, modelling 5 million climate scenarios, suggested that we need to get to net zero by 2030 to stand a good chance of keeping temperature rises to less than 3°C by 2100. Other challenges include species loss, plastic, air and chemical pollution damaging health, fertilisers reducing soil productivity and causing algal blooms in rivers and seas. Innovating to find ways to repair and sustain our planet must be at the heart of business’ growth strategies in order to build lasting prosperity.
4)Respond to the momentum building around business from all angles
Investors are increasingly demanding action. We have seen a $6.5trn consortium challenging the fast food industry to act on climate and water and the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Funds moving out of fossil fuels. Insurers are talking of 2018 as ‘biblical’ in terms of damages and warning about future insurability. Cities are declaring climate emergencies with ambitious decarbonisation targets and people are turning to litigation to hold companies and Governments to account for inaction in the face of knowledge. The UK’s Committee on Climate Change is likely to recommend a net zero target when they report on 2nd May. Plotting a path to net zero and preferably net positive, will be essential for businesses to show they are making a fair contribution to tackling our biggest shared challenges.
5) The opportunity is bigger than ever
While it is true that we face an existential threat to business models and even our way of life, we should also recognise there is enormous opportunity. Businesses who transform how they operate to deliver a fair and regenerative economy will thrive. They can find new ways to create value, develop products and services that rebuild the health of ecosystems, reverse our carbon trajectory and build resilience to the shocks to come. Businesses can deliver new jobs that people are proud of, skilled up for and feel justly rewarded for.
We should thank Extinction Rebellion for bringing these issues to our attention so boldly. Government intervention will be key, but businesses can use this opportunity to lead the way by listening carefully and developing an action plan to solve them. It is hugely exciting and extremely urgent. Ultimately, businesses can either be the change the world needs, or they can let it slide and face extinction along with the rest of civilisation. Which side of history they are on is in their hands.
Gudrun Cartwright, environment director, Business in the Community
Gudrun Cartwright at edie Live
Business in the Community’s environment director will be chairing a session on the Keynote theatre at edie Live (21-22 May 2019). The way business identifies and manages its impacts on people is a powerful extra force driving progress towards the SDGs, and could unlock new markets and drive growth. In this one-hour session, we’ll hear from social sustainability experts and business leaders on how to proactively manage impacts on employees, workers in the value chain, customers and local communities.
The session is just one of many taking place across four theatres during the two-day show, which is edie’s biggest of the year and a highlight in the calendar for sustainability, energy and environment professionals. Under the theme of “turning ambition into ACTION”, we will be bringing attendees the inspiration and solutions needed to achieve a low-carbon, resource efficient and profitable future for their organisation.