Mark Chadwick, Managing Director, Sustainability Solutions UK&I at ENGIE Impact explains why accelerated decarbonisation is sustainability’s global lifeline
Coronavirus has caused unprecedented shutdowns for many countries. At the height of the pandemic, usage of cars, planes and buses dropped to a fraction of the usual level directly due to the lockdowns imposed by governments around the world. And yet, global greenhouse emissions only fell to the levels seen in 2006 levels too high to meet our climate change goals. Now that many countries are easing lockdown restrictions and introducing measures designed to boost their economies, evidence suggests that emissions are rebounding to pre-COVID-19 levels as vehicle usage climbs. This is cause for concern.
COVID-19 and climate change
Both COVID-19 and climate change have impacts beyond carbon emissions, such as health impacts. A recent report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) claimed that one in eight deaths are linked to pollution. Clearly, there is an unquestionable, direct link between pollution and public health. Further to this, extreme weather events are costing economies billions of dollars every year, resulting in death, destruction and more than 50 million people worldwide being displaced.
The threat of climate change is touching every industry, becoming an economic, environmental and health problem. With this in mind, we must adapt beyond where we were pre-COVID-19 – we need to accelerate change and reduce the risks and threats of the climate crisis that can have a devastating impact on the way we live.
One of the most effective ways that we can truly tackle climate change is to commit fully to decarbonisation. Despite slow action during the early parts of the 21st century, many companies are now acknowledging the risks climate change poses their business and are responding to the growing stakeholder expectations and demands for greener operations by announcing aggressive carbon targets. But pledges are just the start – the words must be followed by action.
How effective are decarbonisation strategies?
There is no single approach for decarbonisation, which can make planning and implementation complex for businesses. Variables such as the size of the value chain and the willingness of suppliers to comply with targets can all have an impact on the road map that a business can follow. But decarbonisation is not a one size fits all journeys, rather an innovative and collaborative effort to build the right path.
If we consider energy, fossil fuels remain the world’s primary energy source, with the $87 trillion world economy relying on fossil fuels for 84% of its energy. However, renewable energy growth is happening at a blistering pace, bringing down costs and, therefore, making it appealing for businesses. Renewable energy is being deployed at scale and can satisfy the demand for green action while also satisfying the business case for using reliable, cost-effective energy sources.
Companies and individuals are already moving away from non-renewable sources and switching to clean energy. Financial leaders like BlackRock and JPMorgan Chase are shifting their portfolios away from fossil fuels, and governments are responding too – in the UK, for instance, a new policy was recently introduced to quadruple offshore wind power by 2030 and there are plans to introduce a carbon emissions tax, which could help drive businesses to take action to address their emissions output.
It’s important to note, though, that while a company committing to using renewables is an important step towards a solid and effective decarbonisation plan, it’s only one part of the puzzle.
Scope 3 emissions – those that are generated indirectly across a company’s value chain – can represent as much as 80% of a company’s total carbon footprint so addressing these emissions is vital, especially for those major businesses that have publicly pledged to meet aggressive carbon neutrality targets.
Today, there are more methods for tackling Scope 3 emissions than ever before. Working together with suppliers on a collaborative strategy that aligns with each other’s expectations and adopting these methods is key. For example, setting Science Based Targets (SBTs) can be a consistent way to keep track of goals throughout the supply chain – ENGIE, for example, has committed that 100% of its preferred suppliers will have SBTs in place by 2030, a commitment shared across its supply chain. There are many other options for businesses to consider though, such as utilising locally sourced goods produced from waste by-products and using more secondary materials in production processes.
We also must not forget that other technologies are advancing rapidly that will soon make up the decarbonisation mix. Carbon capture technology, for example, shows significant promise and is starting to attract the sort of investment needed to prove the case. Here, carbon dioxide is captured at source and used in other processes or buried to prevent emissions from escaping into the atmosphere. This has the potential to prevent up to 90% of carbon dioxide that would usually be emitted from the likes of a power station or industrial site from contributing to climate change.
Keeping both feet on the pedal
True net-zero decarbonisation is a step-change in scale and complexity from the average sustainability programme and thus presents a different set of challenges. The complexities of the technology, the gaps in knowledge among decision-makers, the need to recruit specialists with the skills needed to manage the process – these are all challenges to overcome.
Then there’s the financing of decarbonisation. Many organisations may be wary of investing in decarbonisation at a time when COVID-19 has plunged many economies into recession. The critical point to bear in mind is that the long-term consequences of climate change to businesses is the bigger threat and, therefore, only by making the changes required in the short-term will commercial interests be protected.
The stark reality is that when it comes to the climate crisis, time is running out. Accelerated decarbonisation must be prioritised if we are to tackle the issue head-on. As well as deploying the right strategies for your organisation, it’s also important to be collaborative and transparent while prioritising the strategies which will have the biggest impact. Decarbonisation must become a core part of the whole business strategy and be embedded throughout the organisation if we are to solve the climate crisis in good time and prevent further damage before it’s too late.
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