Unilever boss calls for business push on net-zero emissions

Unilever's new chief executive Alan Jope has written to trade associations and business groups that the consumer goods giant is a member of, asking for clarity on whether they believe a transition to net-zero emissions by 2050 is essential.

Unilever boss calls for business push on net-zero emissions

The company has an approved science-based target to reduce Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 100% by 2030

Jope, who replaced Paul Polman as Unilever chief executive at the end of 2018, penned an open letter to business groups and trade associations to see whether views on climate action are consistent with his belief corporates should “advocate for policies that advance the goal of the Paris Agreement”, ideally the 1.5C target, which would require net-zero emissions by 2050.

“Like many businesses, we are seeking to accelerate climate action within our own operations and within our wider value chain,” Jope said. “However, it is increasingly clear that tackling climate change at the speed and scale necessary requires wider transformational changes to the systems in which we operate. This requires strong government policy that creates the right context for further change and accelerated business action.

“We are entering a critical period for climate action, as governments consider whether to raise their national climate ambition ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference – COP26 – in 2020. We would invite all our trade associations and business groups that are engaged on climate policy to consider whether the level of ambition for which they are advocating is truly consistent with the deep emissions cuts implicit in the Paris Agreement and that the latest science makes clear are necessary.”

Unilever has championed the low-carbon transition, notably through its Sustainable Living strategy. The Dutch-Anglo firm has consistently proved the business case through this strategy, with the firm’s ‘Sustainable Living’ brands accounting for a record 70% of turnover growth last year, and growing 46% faster than the rest of the business.

The company has an approved science-based target to reduce Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 100% by 2030, compared to 2015 levels. A Scope 3 target is also in place to deliver a 50% reduction by 2030 against 2010 levels.

Net-zero needed

“The climate crisis has now reached a point where there can be no room for misinterpretation on the scale of the challenge, or indeed on the importance of regulatory measures to support businesses in driving the transition to a net zero emissions economy,” Jope added.

Unilever is the latest corporate to throw its weight behind the calls for net-zero. Green utilities firm Ecotricity has publicly declared a climate emergency, vowing to “upgrade” its current sustainability commitments to become a carbon-neutral business by 2025.

The company is part of the 50 businesses calling on the European Union (EU) to create a long-term decarbonisation roadmap for a net-zero economy by 2050.

Elsewhere, the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) net-zero guidance report recommends that a 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions should be legislated in the UK “as soon as possible”. 

Such a target would constitute the UK’s “highest possible ambition” to combatting climate change and would “send a much stronger signal internationally”. And crucially, this net-zero target could be achieved at the same cost that is currently put against achieving the current Climate Change Act, which is between 1-2% of GDP in 2050.

Matt Mace

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