With the UN climate change conference – COP26 – continuing this week in Glasgow, it’s obvious that there is consensus among a majority of world leaders and key stakeholders that much more needs to be done, if the ambition of keeping global warming to a 1.5 degree increase is to have any chance of being met. Yet talk, as they say, is cheap. Or, in the words of Greta: too much “blah, blah, blah” and not enough action.
Responding to the global climate crisis demands a global response, with public commitments backed up by resources and collaboration. We cannot have countries or organizations working in silos. And we cannot decouple climate considerations from the broader sustainability agenda, as exemplified by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – and SDG 13 (climate action), in particular.
Widening perspectives to understand all impacts
A catch-phrase doing the rounds on social media lately, coined by Jan Konietzko of Cognizant, is ‘carbon tunnel vision’. A clever play on words, yes, but beyond that it is a highly pertinent observation. If we achieve net-zero emissions yet overlook human rights, or fail to safeguard biodiversity, what will this mean for the wellbeing of people and the planet?
At GRI, we provide the global common language for organizations to communicate their impacts. The GRI Standards broadly address a company’s impacts on the economy, environment and people, in a holistic and comprehensive way. That is why, through GRI’s engagements at COP26 we have focused on how sustainability reporting can inform decision-making that achieves faster action on climate change and related sustainability issues.
At the heart of this is strengthening and highlighting the synergies between the Paris agreement and the 2030 Agenda. It will only be through concerted and connected action on these commitments, informed by evidence and data, that we can seize the opportunities for an inclusive and sustainable future for all.
Collaboration between public and private sectors
Alongside transnational coordination between governments, we need to further engage the private sector as a key partner in the realization and implementation of the SDGs and the Paris agreement. Working closely with the UN Global Compact and other international organizations, GRI strives to highlight and increase the importance of corporate sustainability reporting for the SDGs.
Encouragingly, the Climate Confidence Barometer, published in September by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and FREUDS, highlights that 98% of companies surveyed reported confidence that they will meet net-zero targets by 2050. In addition, 55% are confident that the global business community will do so as well.
However, the transition does not stop at emissions; as identified in a recent report from the Future of Sustainable Data Alliance, there is a ‘ESG data hole’ when it comes to biodiversity and nature. KPMG research from December 2020 also found that less than a quarter of large companies at risk from biodiversity loss disclose on the topic. In this context, GRI’s plans to launch a new Biodiversity Standard in 2022 are timely and much needed, while October’s UN Biodiversity Conference set the stage for work to resume next year to adopt a post-2020 global biodiversity framework.
Action that delivers tangible results
However, it is encouraging that well over 100 countries (representing over 85% of the world’s forests) have signed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, committing to work collectively to halt and reverse forestry loss and land degradation by 2030, while promoting an inclusive rural transformation. This is a commendable vision – but we need to hold all parties to these commitments.
To secure tangible results – from safeguarding the environment to wider progress on the sustainability agenda – the action needs to start today. It cannot become a carte blanche to maintain ‘business as usual’ until 2030. Regular and comprehensive reporting on sustainability impacts, with accountability from all organizations with an involvement, is essential to measure progress.
Effective sustainability reporting offers a unique perspective on the role of the private sector, helping countries to work towards the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda. While a multi-faceted approach is needed to reach these goals, we should be no means downplay the significance of reaching net-zero. It is not a matter of either/or – we need to dramatically cut emissions and secure broader sustainable development in the process.
It’s time for true leadership
There are strong signs that business is already convinced of the urgency of the situation – and is, in fact, pressing governments to do much more. The We Mean Business Coalition call to action urges the G20 to limit average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It has been signed so far by 778 business leaders – representing US$2.7 trillion in annual revenue. Furthermore, one-in-five companies around the world have set net-zero targets.
Last week, WBCSD launched a manifesto that calls for a new ‘Corporate Determined Contributions’ mechanism to measure the private sector’s role in the global climate recovery. With a core focus on the imperatives to reduce, remove and report greenhouse gas emissions, this reflects a growing and welcome trend of responsible companies pressing for greater influence in support of climate action.
As COP26 draws to close, GRI calls on all stakeholders to raise their ambitions, act now on their commitments, and work together to deliver a holistic approach to the challenges of climate change. One that takes account of the environment and society – cutting emissions while also securing sustainable development. Failure on either front will mean tragic consequences for all.
Tina Nybo Jensen is the international policy manager at GRI.