OPINION: Business is stepping up on climate change

by Paul Simpson | CDP
Saturday, 14 December 2019 00:38 GMT

A sign reads "natural - sustainable" at a store of the world's biggest furniture group IKEA in Kaarst near Duesseldorf, Germany, April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

More than 740 companies have committed to set emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement.

Paul Simpson is the CEO of CDP

‘Now is the time for action’ was the slogan of COP25, and it’s clear the public are increasingly frustrated by constant talks and want to see the concrete action we  desperately need.

This was thrown into sharp relief with the latest Emissions Gap report  published before the opening of COP25 in Madrid. To stay on a 1.5 degree Celsius pathway, emissions must be cut by 7.6% every year. Yet emissions are still rising. We must urgently change course.   

The latest science shows that staying below 1.5°C of warming is imperative for society and the economy. Over the past two decades there have been nearly 500,000 fatalities and economic damage of $3.54 trillion that can be linked to over 12,000 extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change.

At COP25, much of the momentum has come from business, city leaders and investors, and youth. A growing group of businesses are responding to the urgency of the situation.

This week the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), of which CDP is a founding partner, looked back at its five years of breakneck growth, with today more than 740 companies committed to set emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement.  Over 170 of these are committed to aligning with 1.5°C, what science now says is required to avert dangerous climate change.

Over 310 companies have already had their targets approved by the initiative. By meeting them, they would cut over 265 million metric tons of CO2e, equivalent to shutting down 68 coal-fired power plants. Going further, 80 of those companies have targets in-line with 1.5°C, including BT Group, Microsoft Corporation and Mercedes-Benz AG.

The power of renewable energy

Scaling-up renewable energy is crucial. and , the business community is beginning to match rhetoric with real progress. The RE100 initiative (led by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP) brings together a group of global corporates committed to 100% renewable electricity and now has over 200 members including Apple, Google and IKEA.

At COP25 it announced its membership grew by over a third in 2019. Both RE100 and the SBTi are included in the We Mean Business Coalition commitments.

CDP data shows big business can make a greater impact by driving their suppliers to switch to renewables. Our new report finds that by increasing their average proportion of renewable electricity from 11% to 31%, suppliers to some of the world’s biggest brands could cut a gigaton of emissions, equivalent to the energy emissions of Brazil and Mexico combined.

Harsh reality remains

Amidst these positive signals, the reality is we need to see much more action to have a decent shot of staying within 1.5°C. The latest research by UNEP shows current national government targets put the world on course for warming of over 3°C, which would be disastrous to current and future generations, risk an economic crisis and see the destruction of much of the natural world.

Achieving is  no easy task and requires everyone to work together. Political leaders should take confidence from the groundswell of business action at COP25 – but so far, their response has not been commensurate with what is needed.

Over 70 nations have signalled their intention to submit enhanced climate action plans (NDCs) in 2020 under the Climate Ambition Alliance. However, these countries represent a small proportion of global emissions and we need more G20 countries to come forward.

2020 must be a super-year of climate action. As we head toward COP26 in Glasgow we make real and measurable progress with impact and go well beyond rhetoric.

A key part of this is creating an ‘Ambition Loop’ where bold government policies and private sector leadership reinforce each other. Companies are taking steps in the right direction, but this needs to accelerate and be matched with clear policy signals, such as the new European Green Deal.

It is the responsibility of every company, every city, every investor and every government to address the climate emergency. Only if this happens can we achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and create a safe, sustainable and prosperous future for everyone.