I’ve had many conversations recently with politicians and business leaders on setting targets, and they seem to all share a feeling of apprehensiveness. Everyone wants to set ambitious emissions reductions targets, as long as they are achievable targets.
We’ve even done it ourselves at thinkstep. When we started our science-based targets journey, our first task was to analyse and understand what it would take to meet the targets before committing to them.
Now don’t get me wrong. My rational side completely understands—after all, who would want to set themselves up for failure?
But here’s the problem: we don’t have the luxury of working with such incremental change. We have to take action… and quickly. According to a report earlier this year, anthropogenic climate change has radically altered three quarters of all land on the planet—and not in a good way. We are facing of the potential extinction of as many as 1 million species, among many other devastating consequences.
I don’t need to harp on about the climate emergency we’re in. You’ve seen it in the headlines the last few months. Category 5 hurricanes across the Caribbean, floods in Midwestern United States, over 1.5 metres of hail in Mexico, scorching temperatures above 40 degrees in Central Europe, to name but a few examples.
We are facing a serious challenge ahead. Business as usual must end if we stand any chance of keeping global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Last week, almost 8 million people took to the streets across over a hundred countries to demand serious action on climate change. In an unusual move, large multinational corporations, such as Ben & Jerry’s and Lush, shut down their stores to support the climate strike. While the numbers are still small compared to the global population, there are signs that the tide is shifting.
In less than three months, we will enter the year 2020, a landmark year for the Paris Agreement. Countries will come together to redefine their targets for 2030. But it’s not just governments setting targets—businesses around the world are preparing their 2030 targets too. How well they execute on these targets will ultimately determine our future and the future of generations to come.
What is increasingly evident is that our target is crystal clear. We hear it from the scientists again and again: net zero emissions. That’s where we need to go as soon as possible.
Net zero just isn’t negotiable anymore—it’s a matter of how, not if.
The good news is that we now have a shared vision and end goal. In the past, companies could get away with developing targets for marketing—for example, 20 percent reduction by 2020! Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Those marketing-type targets are no longer acceptable. They just don’t cut it.
The rise of the Science Based Targets Initiative goes to show that stakeholders need to see alignment with the hard facts, the climate science. And the climate science is simple—our carbon budget is running out, and we need to hit peak emissions by next year.
Every company and government taking a leap of faith to net zero does run an inherent risk, the risk of failure. But there is power in numbers, and the more companies and governments buy into the vision, the lower the risk.
If every company and government around the world committed to net zero by 2030, then the risk of failure for one company or government would decrease. We would all become part of the same boat, and we would all drive forward to meet that target—it wouldn’t be only a handful of companies’ reputations on the line.
Sharing an end goal will also drive innovation and collaboration. We still struggle to know what a net zero world look like. There are challenges we haven’t figured out how to solve yet, such as making the aviation industry carbon-neutral or developing carbon-neutral industrialized high-heat technology, not to mention the challenges we haven’t even thought of yet. But we have enough information and technology to drastically change business practices and significantly reduce global carbon emissions.
If we can start the journey to net zero and work on the first 25 percent, we can continue to figure out what the next 50 percent will look like.
Committing to something that we aren’t sure how to achieve isn’t about greenwashing, and it’s not about false promises. There still needs to be accountability, and we need the journey to be transparent so that we can assure our efforts are genuine.
But we need to acknowledge that this is the only possible path, and that we are all on the same journey to net zero.
As I think about the future of business, I come back to a quote I read recently.
“Leadership is a responsibility. Leadership is not fun. Leadership is about doing things before anybody else does them. Leadership is about taking risks. Leadership is about taking decisions when you don’t know 100% what the outcome is going to be.” – Alexandria Ocaso-Cortez
We can’t wait any longer. It’s time for the business world and governments to show true leadership on climate action.
If we don’t meet net zero, we’ll have much bigger problems to grapple with than a missed target.
Written by Eleni Polychroniadou