Don’t neglect climate justice in net-zero transition, Co-op urges other businesses

Supply chains including coffee and tea (pictured) are already being affected by the physical impacts of the climate crisis. Image: Co-op

The retailer has made the call to action in a new ‘Climate Justice for People and Planet’ report, which builds on the 10-point climate action plan it published earlier this year. That plan is headlined by a commitment to deliver a net-zero value chain by 2040 and details measures to help suppliers improve resilience to climate-related risks – both physical (e.g. changing weather patterns and a heightened risk of natural disaster) and transition-related (e.g. changing skills or business models amid the shift to a lower-carbon economy).

The new report urges the UK Government to do more to ensure that businesses are investing in the resilience of international supply chains and measures to shift business models and supply chains, while protecting the livelihoods of affected workers and their communities.

Specifically, it calls for the UK to return to spending 0.7% of gross national income to international aid and development, up from 0.5% at present, “without delay”. The Government is also implored to ensure that further information on how the G7 nations intend to deliver the promised $100bn annual commitment to improving climate adaptation and mitigation in developing nations results from COP26. The commitment has failed to be delivered in the past and G7 nations made a fresh commitment to get back on track at this year’s Summit in Cornwall.

There are also calls from the Co-op for businesses to lead by example rather than waiting for legislation and taking a compliance-based approach. The report recommends that businesses fully assess the climate-related risks that are already ‘baked in’ and act accordingly, while also planning for further temperature increase and the associated increase in risk.

Co-op’s new report coincides with a new commitment for the business to continue to spend at least 0.7% of its pre-tax profit on international aid. This is a direct criticism of the UK Government’s own approach; the Treasury opted, amid Covid-19, to cut the foreign aid budget from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%. The cut was intended to be temporary but has been extended after a vote in the House of Commons, despite widespread criticism from NGOs.

Co-op has invested between 2.6% and 4.9% of pre-tax profits in international development activities every year since 2017, according to its own reporting.

“We are disappointed in the Government’s decision not to return to its 0.7% commitment,” Co-op Food’s chief executive Jo Whitfield said.

“However, it’s not just Government that has a part to play in investing in climate resilience and adaptation, businesses like ours do too. That is why will continue spending more than 0.7% of pre-tax profit to international investment and encourage other retailers to follow given their international supply chains. We must work for a just transition, as we recognise that climate change is a human issue as much as it is an environmental one.” 

Additionally, the Co-op has begun new partnership activities with the Fairtrade Foundation and Fairtrade Africa, to support the delivery of training and infrastructure that will improve climate adaptation and resilience on farms. While the company has worked with Fairtrade for many years, it claims the new approach will “drive a deeper impact”, as it will go beyond supporting individual projects and towards a “strategic programme directed by producers themselves”.

Fairtrade Africa’s programmes director Chris Oluoch explained that climate-related risks currently facing farmers in sub-Saharan Africa include price shocks, crop diseases, food insecurity and natural disasters.

He said: “Through their generous donation and annual commitment to fund our climate strategy, the Co-op is standing side by side with Fairtrade producers, ensuring a farmer-centric approach to adapting and mitigating the very worst effects of climate change and channelling crucial funding to the areas of greatest need in a flexible and responsive manner.

“We hope that Co-op’s investment will inspire action and support from other actors in the food supply chain to invest in producers on the ground to adapt to climate challenges, supporting the long-term resilience of key supply chains and the communities who depend on them.”   

The Co-op’s Group chief executive Steve Murrells and senior ethics and sustainability manager Barry Clavin were the guests for the August edition of edie’s Net-Zero Business podcast. Those interested in learning more about the company’s climate approach are encouraged to stream that episode here.

IPCC report

Last month, the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report on the physical risks of the climate crisis that has been described as “code red” for humanity.

According to the report, the global temperature increase from pre-industrial times has already reached between 1.1C and 1.2C, with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C target likely to be breached by 2040. The report urges deep cuts to emissions, both in the short-term and long-term, making the case for going beyond net-zero globally by 2050.

But the report also outlines how, even if rapid global decarbonisation takes place, it would take some two or three decades for global temperatures to stabilise. In other words, the most affected regions will continue to face heightened risk.

This warning has prompted much discussion on how national governments and businesses alike can improve climate adaptation efforts.

Join the conversation at edie’s nature-based solutions and climate adaptation online sessions

On Thursday 9 September, sustainability experts from organisations including Unilever, the FAIRR Initiative, Nomad Foods and Grosvenor will discuss how businesses can harness nature-based solutions while adapting to the changing climate to improve resiliency, as part of three back-to-back online events hosted by edie. 

Hosted during edie’s special COP26 Focus Week of content and events, this Nature-Based Solutions & Climate Adaptation online event offers up an afternoon of live, interactive webinar presentations and discussions – all dedicated to driving business action around these two critical themes of the upcoming climate talks.

This premium online event effectively combines three edie webinars into a single afternoon, with each webinar session taking a particular format. The first session (45 mins) will be a Q&A-style debate; the second session (one hour) will be a series of quick-fire case studies; and the third session (45 mins) will take a ‘masterclass’ format. 

For full information and to register, click here.

Sarah George

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