IPCC climate report: role of business in creating a carbon-neutral world

IPCC climate report: role of business in creating a carbon-neutral world

The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5°C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

The authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target, which they say is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5°C and 2°C.

The Special Report on Global Warming warns that the global temperature increase will hit 1.5C by 2030, and 3-4°C by the end of the century.

The document notes that the world is already 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels, and that an increase to 2°C would significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

But the report predicts that if the world can become carbon-neutral by 2047, there will be a 66% chance of meeting the most ambitious end of the Paris Agreement pledge.

“Deep” and “urgent” action – Role of business

The IPCC report notes that such an achievement will require “deep” and “urgent” actions from policymakers and corporates alike – but that it is possible with significant investment, outlining several of the technologies and methods that need to be accelerated and commercialised.

But how can business stop being part of the problem, and co-create the necessary solutions?

Specifically, the report outlines the benefits of reforestation schemes, carbon offsetting and direct air capture of CO2 and bioenergy and carbon capture and storage (BECCS) as critical solutions, urging that they are supported at a business and policy level.

The report suggests rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems.

A clear way for any company to support the ambitions of the Paris Agreement is by setting an emissions reduction goal in line with either of its trajectories, through the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

When striving to meet pressing climate targets, it is always worth looking at the green innovations of today that could become mainstream in the coming months and years.

Some of the most worrying consequences of a 2°C warmer world outlined in the report – from rising sea levels to climate-driven food poverty and water stress – are likely to disproportionately affect developing nations, the IPCC has warned.

This warning bears particular weight to any company with a wide global supply chain, emphasising the importance of bringing the entire value chain on your sustainability journey. For most companies, indirect activities will account for the majority of emissions – so a carbon-neutral world will only come to fruition if supply chains are fully decarbonised.

Adopt scenario analysis

Referencing more than 6,000 scientific works, the IPCC report projects the likely outcomes for biodiversity, extreme weather events and sea level rises at both a 1.5C trajectory and a 2.C trajectory – and investigates a multitude of “pathways” which could result in either level of warming.

The concept of scenario analysis is that it encourages businesses to explore uncertainty to create a “well-established method for developing strategic plans that are more flexible or robust to a range of future states”.

Through the analysis, businesses should evaluate a range of climate-related scenarios, including a 2°C scenario, to explore physical, strategic and financial risks and opportunities that could emerge.

Johan Rockström, a co-author of the recent Hothouse Earth report, said scientists never previously discussed 1.5°C, which was initially seen as a political concession to small island states. But he said opinion had shifted in the past few years along with growing evidence of climate instability and the approach of tipping points that might push the world off a course that could be controlled by emissions reductions.

“Climate change is occurring earlier and more rapidly than expected. Even at the current level of 1°C warming, it is painful,” he said. “This report is really important. It has a scientific robustness that shows 1.5°C is not just a political concession. There is a growing recognition that 2°C is dangerous.”

The report will be presented to governments at the COP24 UN climate conference in Poland at the end of this year. But analysts say there is much work to be done, with even pro-Paris deal nations involved in fossil fuel extraction that runs against the spirit of their commitments. Britain is pushing ahead with gas fracking, Norway with oil exploration in the Arctic, and the German government wants to tear down Hambach forest to dig for coal.

At the current level of commitments, the world is on course for a disastrous 3°C of warming. The report authors are refusing to accept defeat, believing the increasingly visible damage caused by climate change will shift opinion their way.

Further information

October 9, 2018
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