31 March, 2023
As consultants, our job is to inspire our clients to take transformative action to reduce climate change, and show them how to get there. We build strategies to help companies achieve net zero by 2050. We develop science-based targets limit global heating to 1.5 degrees. We try to encourage everyone to go further and faster, but we also talk about “sustainability journeys” and “taking the first step”.
But as we sat at our Friday 5 meeting discussing the latest IPCC report, we felt stumped. Not because the report tells us much – in broad terms – that we don’t already know. Not even because it reiterates the agonisingly slow pace of change on what needs to be a thunderbolt of transformation – with government emissions reduction pledges made since COP26 predicted to lead to cuts of less than one per cent of projected 2030 greenhouse gas emissions. But because the most credible climate change body in the world is stating that even in the very best case scenario, keeping to the 1.5 degree target looks nigh on impossible without a complete transformation of our economies and societies – and that only this can save us from accelerating climate disaster.
And this raises some big questions. What does it mean to talk about net zero by 2050 when the world is on track to reach 1.5 degrees by early 2030 – triggering irreversible climate tipping points like the release of heat-accelerating methane from melting permafrost and the melting of arctic ice sheets? How can we make plans for thirty years into the future when, last year, a third of Pakistan was underwater and over 20,000 people in western Europe died from heatwaves? Should we refuse to set net zero targets for any later than 2030 (many companies could go net zero now) or switch our attention to adaptation, recognising the seismic damage that is already locked in?
We don’t know. But we do know that every fraction of a degree of heating we avoid will avert enormous amounts of suffering. We know that people all over the world care deeply about protecting nature and creating a world that they and their children can thrive in. And we know that cutting emissions as fast as possible – and faster – is still good business. In fact, it’s the only kind of business that can survive.
By Sarah Howden