The world is facing a climate emergency. A new study published by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) just this summer underlines the scale of the challenge: it supports predictions that the Arctic could be free of sea ice as soon as 2035. This prospect should be focusing our minds on achieving a low-carbon world as soon as is feasible.
Of course, around the world, commitments have already been made. Many countries have set legally binding targets on net-zero emissions, including Sweden which has pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2045, and the UK, France, and Denmark all aiming for 2050.
Yet, while these targets are set with a 20+ year timeframe, businesses are already being impacted today by climate change. It’s clear that businesses must adapt now: not only to provide the best possible chance of reaching zero carbon targets, but also to ensure they remain successful and profitable in a climate-impacted world.
Go beyond net zero and think climate resilience
Our view is that while zero carbon aims are important and worthwhile, we will not see the benefit for more than 50 years. We must do more than simply sign up to long-term goals, especially those with a single focus on ‘zero carbon’. Companies, governments, societies, must take action to minimise the severity and impact of climate change. Now is the time to move from planning and target-setting, to execution. More than that, everything business and society does in relation to climate action must be holistic. Yes, reduce carbon, but in parallel, improve climate resilience and adapt to climate change hazards and events.
Set clear leadership and empower the organisation
We understand that this is not an easy proposition. To move forward, businesses must tackle the challenges that can impede immediate action, which range from lack of collaboration, to business models and procurement practices that were adopted long before the reality of the ‘burning platform’ was accepted. More problematic even than these factors, are the outdated industry standards, or even internal guidelines that have gone unchallenged for too long. These can be the biggest barriers to progress and even drive the wrong outcomes altogether. For example, we conducted a study in the UK a couple of years ago that showed that heating, cooling and electrical systems in new buildings are regularly designed with 30 or even 50% more capacity than they will ever need, because of slavishly sticking to existing standards and approaches. Adopting a different approach leads to a cost-effective leaner design with improved sustainability outcomes.
For many businesses taking those first steps to move from planning and target setting to real action can feel hard: scaling up what they are doing in this space can feel daunting. The issues are complex and challenging, and it takes real bravery at the head of an organisation to move from short-term, profit driven priorities, to investing in solutions which will future proof the business for the longer term. There is a big gap between words and actions, and bridging that requires those in leadership positions to empower their organisation to take immediate, tangible action, at all levels. This includes recognising and harnessing the knowledge and drive of younger generations, who may not yet be in leadership positions but appreciate the challenges and requirement for action. We have an obligation to the next generation to create the environment for change.