IPCC 1.5C report: How can business drive the creation of a carbon-neutral world?

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is celebrating its 30th birthday this year, and has done so by releasing a landmark report that acknowledges the severity of the challenge at hand. But how can business stop being part of the problem, and co-create the necessary solutions?

Last week, renowned scientists gathered in Incheon, Republic of Korea, to align, contextualise and present an array of climate-related data. Published in the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C  today (8 October), this data spells out the scale of climate challenges clearly. There is a headline warning that the global temperature increase will hit 1.5C by 2030, and 3-4C by the end of the century.

The document warns that the world is already 1C warmer than pre-industrial levels, and that an increase to 2C would significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. Specifically, it notes that the proportion of the global population exposed to water stress could be 50% lower at 1.5C than at 2C.

But there is hope. The report predicts that if the world can become carbon-neutral by 2047, we will have a 66% chance of meeting the most ambitious end of the Paris Agreement pledge.

It notes that such an achievement will require “deep” and “urgent” actions from policymakers and corporates alike – but that it is possible with significant investment, outlining several of the technologies and methods that need to be accelerated and commercialised.

Specifically, the report outlines the benefits of reforestation schemes, carbon offsetting and direct air capture of CO2 and bioenergy and carbon capture and storage (BECCS) as critical solutions, urging that they are supported at a business and policy level. With this in mind, edie has rounded up four ways that businesses can help to co-create a 1.5C world.

How can business drive the creation of a carbon-neutral world? 

Set science-based targets

A clear way for any company to support the ambitions of the Paris Agreement is by setting an emissions reduction goal in line with either of its trajectories, through the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

More than 130 companies including L’OrealKingspan and Target, have now set SBTi-verified goals aligning to 2C in a bid to tackle climate challenges, while TescoBT and Carlsberg remain the only three corporations to have received verification for more ambitious goals in line with a 1.5C trajectory. 

In order to meet these targets, the vast majority of these organisations have committed to increase the proportion of renewable energy they purchase, with Ikea notably pledging to generate more clean energy than it uses. Considering that the IPCC report predicts that 70-85% of the world’s energy mix will need to be sourced from renewables by 2030 if a 1.5C trajectory is to be achieved, the scope for businesses to contribute is palpable.

Unlock innovation

When striving to meet pressing climate targets, it is always worth looking at the green innovations of today that could become mainstream in the coming months and years – with the IPCC report placing a particular emphasis on BECCS.

Similarly, the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) has previously claimed that BECCS is the most cost-effective way of meeting climate change targets. Indeed, the ETI suggests that that BECCS could deliver roughly 55 million tonnes of net negative emissions a year in the UK – approximately half the nation’s emissions target – by the 2050s.

But there is, of course, no “one-size-fits-all” for innovation across all sectors – which is why companies from a range of industries, such as AB InBevHeathrow Airport and The Body Shop, have moved to up investment in innovation in recent times. Elsewhere, Virgin Atlantic has begun to showcase its innovative new jet fuel that has the potential to revolutionise and accelerate low-carbon transport in the aviation sector. 

Indeed, policy support for green innovation also seems to be growing, with the UK Government having recently pledged to pour £1bn into research and development across the nation. The report serves as a reminder that the time for innovation is now. 

Bring the supply chain with you

Some of the most worrying consequences of a 2C world outlined in the report – from rising sea levels to climate-driven food poverty and water stress – are likely to disproportionately affect developing nations, the IPCC has warned.

This warning bears particular weight to any company with a wide global supply chain, emphasising the importance of bringing your entire value chain on your sustainability journey. For most companies, indirect activities will account for the majority of emissions – so a carbon-neutral world will only come to fruition if supply chains are fully decarbonised.

Commenting on the report, the Least Developed Countries Group’s chairman Gebru Jember Endalew said: “It is particularly vulnerable countries like the least developed countries that are worst affected by the devastating impacts of climate change and bear the greatest cost from the damage it causes, despite contributing the least to the problem.

“This injustice must be addressed by the international community through the provision of support for dealing with loss and damage.”

Adopt scenario analysis  

Referencing more than 6,000 scientific works, the IPCC report projects the likely outcomes for biodiversity, extreme weather events and sea level rises at both a 1.5C trajectory and a 2.C trajectory – and investigates a multitude of “pathways” which could result in either level of warming. 

This layout bears resemblance to the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) scenario analysis model, which enables sustainability professionals to use storytelling to gain boardroom buy-in for climate action.

The concept of scenario analysis is that it encourages businesses to explore uncertainty to create a “well-established method for developing strategic plans that are more flexible or robust to a range of future states”.

Through the analysis, businesses should evaluate a range of climate-related scenarios, including a 2C scenario, to explore physical, strategic and financial risks and opportunities that could emerge.

With more than 500 businesses now having expressed support for the TCFD recommendations, perhaps the IPCC’s findings will prove cause for alignment to be converted into action.  

Sarah George

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