A group of leading scientists have delivered a “final warning” on the climate crisis, as rising greenhouse gas emissions push the world to the brink of irrevocable damage that only swift and drastic action can avert. But among all the stark lessons, there is hope ‘it can be done’ – so what can businesses do to help tackle climate change?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), made up of the world’s leading climate scientists, set out the final part of its sixth assessment report with a comprehensive review of the climate crisis and came up with one clear message: act now, or it will be too late.
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said: “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.”
The synthesis report is almost certain to be the last such assessment while the world still has a chance of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. All of those impacts are set to increase rapidly, as we have failed to reverse the 200-year trend of rising greenhouse gas emissions, despite more than 30 years of warnings from the IPCC, which published its first report in 1990.
The world warms in response to the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, so every year in which emissions continue to rise, it eats up the available “carbon budget” and means much more drastic cuts will be needed in future years.
Yet there is still hope of staying within 1.5 °C, according to the report. Hoesung Lee, the chair of the IPCC, said: “This synthesis report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a liveable sustainable future for all.”
Temperatures are now about 1.1 °C above pre-industrial levels, the IPCC found. If greenhouse gas emissions can be made to peak as soon as possible, and are reduced rapidly in the following years, it may still be possible to avoid the worst ravages that would follow a 1.5 °C rise.
Guterres called on governments to take drastic action to reduce emissions by investing in renewable energy and low-carbon technology. He said rich countries must try to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions “as close as possible to 2040,” rather than waiting for the 2050 deadline that most have signed up to.
What can SMEs do?
Small and midsized enterprises (SMEs) are drivers of economic growth and employment. However, while playing a vital role in the economy, SMEs contribute to nearly half of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.
SMEs account for 99.9% of the UK’s business population and, as such, play a crucial role in the fight against climate change. These businesses contribute significantly to industrial emissions through their facilities or third parties from whom they buy energy, and there is plenty they can do to help contribute to systematic change.
Action on climate has rapidly become an ethical and business imperative, but there are gaping holes in our collective response, as highlighted in the IPCC report. In the face of this latest warning, it’s easy to see that the cost of doing nothing is inconceivable. When you look plainly at the options facing us today, climate action is the obvious ‘bargain’.
It’s important to recognise that climate impacts are relevant to every sector of our lives and businesses. We need to be talking about this more, and businesses everywhere, of all sizes and from all industries, need to take increasingly substantial action, before governments make it mandatory. You can begin today by reading the report and raising it at meetings. Ensuring your leaders and team are climate competent is also a crucial step.
Here is a list of examples that your business can implement in response to the report:
- Measure & manage your impact on people & planet
- Decarbonise your business operations as much and as quickly as possible
- Adopt stakeholder governance to ensure you’re accountable for prioritising the planet in your business decisions
- Use your platform to push governments towards enacting policy change that holds all companies accountable to the planet
- Center justice & people in your climate action, especially the most vulnerable and most affected by the climate crisis
- Partner with other businesses & organisations to take collective action for the planet
- Commit to using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) as a blueprint for an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative future
SMEs can play a vital part in helping the globe achieve a better carbon balance. Their role in supplying products and resources to larger companies only strengthens the pressure on SMEs to decarbonise and modify business strategies to combat climate change.
The important thing to remember is there is still hope of staying within 1.5 °C limit, according to the report. Hoesung Lee, the chair of the IPCC, said: “This synthesis report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a liveable sustainable future for all.” By recognising their importance in the supply chain, SMEs can inspire change following the clear warnings from the IPCC report.
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