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Eight ways businesses can take climate action


Authored by Nigel Topping

Businesses are setting increasingly ambitious targets to limit their impacts and seize the opportunities from climate change. But how will they meet them? Nigel Topping, CEO of We Mean Business, shares his thoughts.

Unilever sign in Mexico

About the author

Nigel Topping

Nigel Topping

Nigel Topping is CEO of We Mean Business, a coalition of organisations working with thousands of the world’s most influential businesses and investors toaccelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. He has 18 years of experience in the private sector, including a period as a senior vice president of supply chain for a global automotive component manufacturer.

Wise business leaders always start with the end in mind, and a clear view of their long-term vision.

Nowhere is this advice more relevant than in guiding the business response to climate change.

What is the end? Policy-makers have agreed that we shall limit global warming to less than two degrees, although of course even at this level there remain large systemic risks, so wise leaders are even more ambitious. This translates into net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the global economy well before the end of the century, the earlier the better.

Meeting bold targets

More than 100 leading businesses have translated this into specific emissions reduction targets, so-called science-based targets, following the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) science and the International Energy Agency’s sector-based economic pathways.

For example, the Italian utility Enel (Europe’s second largest) has committed to 100% carbon-free electricity generation by 2050, and Mars, the confectionery and foods business, has committed to 80% reductions in emissions across its value chain by 2050.

And having set such bold overarching targets, how can business develop practical plans to get there? Increasingly we see the power of ‘all-in’ plans – where businesses commit to the full transition, leaving no room for doubt as to their intentions.

More than 50 businesses, including Unilever and IKEA, have committed to sourcing 100% of their electricity from renewable sources as part of the RE100 initiative, and all the members of the Consumer Goods Forum have committed to 100% deforestation-free commodity supply chains for palm oil, soy, beef and timber.

Powerful signals of leadership

Expect to see more of these leadership initiatives next year – whether companies commit to 100% electric vehicles, 100% improvement in energy productivity, 100% carbon-free buildings or 100% climate smart agricultural commodities. Such powerful signals to employees, suppliers, peers and regulators all help to drive faster action, reduce costs and create better outcomes on climate change.

We’ve developed eight key commitments you can make as a business that will lead to meaningful climate action, which you can see in the graphic above.

Coming out of the COP21 talks in Paris, policy-makers have already committed to national plans (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs) which improve the trajectory of future climate change from a projected 4.8 degrees warming this century to 2.7 degrees.

This represents a clear turning point and will usher in a low-carbon future growth phase for the global economy. Over the next five years I expect to see science-based targets and 100% climate commitments become the norm for global businesses, so that by 2020 it is easy for policy-makers to submit revised plans that add up to a safer, more prosperous, sub-two degree world.

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