Leaders at COP27

COP27: “We are not on the path to 1.5°C”

Following on from anthropy, Director of Lynn Planet, Samar Khan, talks COP27.

Photo credit to UNclimatechange

It has been 30 years since the UN created their Framework Convention on Climate Change. It’s a treaty which, in their words, aims “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.” It was only in 2015, however, when the UNFCCC introduced the Paris Agreement. Its aim: to keep global average temperature rise this century as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Given the results of the COP27 conference in Sharm El-Sheikh last week, this is not going to happen.

The conference ended on a pessimistic note, with the UN Environment Programme releasing a report stating, quite unequivocally, that there is currently no credible pathway in place to reach 1.5°C. It went on to say that progress made by the global system to date is “woefully inadequate.” Indeed, to keep the 1.5°C target alive, global emissions must fall by 50% by 2030.

Why is this target important?

Because at 1.5°C, large parts of the climate system become self-perpetuating. They’re what we call climate tipping points. Beyond this warming threshold, climate systems enter self-reinforcing feedback loops. Loops which are hard to reverse. In this state, human endeavours to limit the climate emergency are all but ineffective.

To put our climate path into context, average global temperatures have increased just over 1°C since pre-industrial times. It seems minor. However, this slight increase has caused record-breaking weather events across the world this year. The wildfires in California, the floods in Pakistan, and the punishing heat waves and droughts experienced across China, Europe and the UK all have this slight increase to thank. These extreme 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 until 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. 

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and the shifting business landscape

The growing ESG movement has forced businesses to reconcile their profits with their environmental impact. We highlight some key shifts in this changing landscape:

  • Shift from shareholders to stakeholders: Corporations can’t simply focus on profits. They are answerable to multiple stakeholders including the society, environment, employees, government, etc. The social license to operate –  aka the acceptance of a business’ practice amongst the public – has become an 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 has placed a notable cost on businesses. If businesses don’t achieve net-zero targets voluntarily, then the inevitable following policy responses that will. It appears that the transition to a carbon neutral future might not necessarily mean a win-win situation for everyone. History shows that economic transitions, especially those taking place over a short period of time, prove critical for many businesses. In this regard, front-loading climate actions just makes good business sense. It allows businesses to spread costs over longer periods 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’ climate concerns can no longer be used as a substitute for unsustainable business practices. A risk businesses are alive to. However, 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 must 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. Given the contradictory outcomes of COP27 and the misinformation stymying climate collabortion, behaviour change campaigns are needed now more than ever. 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.

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