Photo credit to UNclimatechange
The hosting of COP27 in the city of Sharm El-Sheikh this year marks the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: a treaty “to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, in a time frame which allows ecosystems to adapt naturally and enables sustainable development.” The UNFCCC created the Paris Agreement in 2015, the aim of which is to keep global average temperature rise this century as close as possible to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
The UN Environment Programme released a report last week which stated, quite unequivocally, that there is currently no credible pathway in place to reach 1.5C and that progress made by the global system to date is – “woefully inadequate.” We know that global emissions must fall by 50% by 2030 to keep the 1.5C target alive. Why is this target important? Because at 1.5C, large parts of the climate system become self-perpetuating – what we call climate tipping points. Human endeavours to limit the climate emergency beyond this warming threshold become less effective as climate systems enter self-reinforcing feedback loops which are hard to reverse.
To put our climate path into context, average global temperatures have increased just over 1C since pre-industrial times. This has caused record-breaking weather events across the world this year – from the wildfires in California and the floods in Pakistan to the punishing heat waves and droughts experienced across China, Europe and the UK. These weather events will become more severe and more frequent as the climate crisis unfolds.
It is clear that we need to bolster our efforts further – we are in the decisive decade of climate action. Our actions till 2030 will determine if we stave off the worst of the climate crisis or not. We need societal transformation at a scale and pace which makes this an incredibly demanding challenge to achieve.
ESG and the shifting business landscape
The growing ESG movement has forced businesses to reconcile their profit motives with the impact they’re having on climate and biodiversity. We highlight some key shifts in this changing landscape:
- Shift from shareholders to stakeholders: Corporations can’t simply focus on profits but are answerable to multiple stakeholders including the society, environment, employees, government, etc. The social license to operate – which is the ongoing acceptance of a business’ practice amongst employees and general public – has become an increasingly important consideration
- Shift to thinking long-term: Businesses face the challenge of managing and communicating long-term revenue and climate targets with short-term pressures. Business leaders face a world of increasing complexity and demands.
- Cost of transition: The rapid transformation required places a notable cost on businesses. If businesses don’t achieve net-zero targets voluntarily, then the inevitable policy responses that will follow will. The transition to a carbon neutral future might not necessarily mean a win-win situation for everyone as it is often claimed to be. History shows that economic transitions, especially those that have taken place over a short period of time, have proved existential for quite a number of businesses. In this regard, front-loading climate actions just makes good business sense. It allows you to spread costs over the longer period and develop the resources and capabilities to manage this rapid transition.
- Greenwashing and greenwishing: The higher scrutiny around sustainability assertions has led to costly fines being levied on a growing number of businesses, not to mention the reputational damage that ensures. Virtue-signalling to greenwash consumers’ concerns about climate and the environment can no longer be used as a substitute for unsustainable business practices. A risk businesses are alive to. But a more pernicious aspect of our climate actions are around ‘greenwishing.’ A realisation that even honest sustainability endeavours from businesses might not be sufficient to achieve our net-zero targets.Duncan Austin, an expert on sustainability and systems-thinking who coined the term, notes that businesses might be more sustainable than before, but are not sustainable enough to meet the challenges demanded by the climate crisis. Our ecological crisis places a threshold of sustainability which we must achieve. Simply being greener than before is insufficient in driving change; it is akin to rearranging deck chairs on the titanic. We need to be bolder in our climate actions if we are to manage the worst effects of the climate crisis.
- The rise of net positive businesses: In their book, Paul Polman and Andrew Winston, note that it is not just about being net-zero, where businesses reducing carbon emissions is centred around doing less harm. It is about being net-positive, a new way of doing business which puts more back into society, the environment and global economy than it takes out. In other words, doing more good for the society in which you operate.
From incrementalism to rapid transformation
It is clear that we need more collaboration across every entity of the global system. We all have a part to play in achieving our net-zero future whilst protecting our quality of life, our biodiversity, and ensuring the transition is equitable.
We at Lynn, are working hard to promote engagement and cooperation between governments, businesses and communities to design and deliver sustainable behaviour changes which will help us achieve our net-zero goals. The House of Lords released a seminal paper two weeks ago in which they identified behaviour change as essential to achieving climate and environmental goals. And we couldn’t agree more. Our dedicated practice, Lynn Planet, combines expertise from wide-ranging fields of behavioural science, misinformation strategies to systems-thinking, macroeconomics and social justice to change behaviours effectively and drive ambitious climate actions to save our planet. Our shared belief at Lynn is simple: Behavioural science has the power to improve and save lives