Most businesses think they will have to go beyond net-zero to tackle the climate crisis

Six in 10 businesses are concerned that delivering against long-term net-zero targets alone will not create an adequate response to the climate crisis, a major survey by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has revealed.

Most businesses think they will have to go beyond net-zero to tackle the climate crisis

The survey polled an undisclosed number of WBCSD members, from its membership base of businesses with more than $8.5trn in combined annual revenues and more than 19 million employees collectively.

Promisingly, 98% of the respondents said they are confident that their business will reach net-zero by 2050 at the latest. Around two-thirds admitted that they have dedicated more time and resources to net-zero strategizing and delivery during Covid-19.

But the survey uncovered concerns that not all businesses are as ambitious, and that businesses will need to accelerate decarbonisation while also acting on other issues such as nature and water. On the former, only 55% of the survey respondents say they are confident that the global business community will transition to net-zero by 2050. Confidence was found to be stronger for businesses in Europe and North America than other geographies, with Africa and South America bottom of the list.

On the latter, 59% of respondents are concerned that net-zero by 2050 alone is too weak of a response to the climate crisis, and related social, economic and environmental issues. Respondents raised the importance of going carbon-negative; reaching net-zero sooner than 2050, especially for operations, and of conserving and restoring nature.

Indeed, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that reaching “at least net-zero by 2050” will give the world the best chance of delivering the Paris Agreement. Scientists on the Climate Crisis Advisory Group have reached the same conclusion.

Nonetheless, most of the survey respondents believe policymakers will need to strengthen their approaches if there is a hope of getting all businesses to net-zero by 2050 – let alone beyond net-zero. Just 25% said they have confidence that existing policy plans can deliver net-zero. The UN’s emissions gap report for 2021, published this week, revealed that current commitments will result in a 2.7C temperature increase above pre-industrial levels by 2100, breaking both Paris Agreement pathways.

Survey respondents were asked which issues were still the hardest for them to overcome in terms of decarbonising their value chains. Common concerns included supply chain engagement, carbon pricing and scaling up carbon removal strategies for offsetting or insetting.

On the flip side, the research found that businesses are now finding it easier to electrify their fleets, procure renewable electricity, accurately measure emissions and change investment strategies.

Also revealed was a significant shift in how businesses are framing the sustainability and profitability debate. When asked five years ago, just 5% of WBCSD members believed taking action on climate was beneficial to their bottom line. The proportion is now 29%. An additional 44% of businesses believe that climate action will be a cost-benefit to their business within the next five years.

Sarah George

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