Business aims high, calls for climate action

25th May 2015

The debate over whether or not companies should reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases is pretty much done and dusted; most have accepted that they have to do so.

That much was clear at the Business and Climate Summit in Paris on 20 and 21 May, where industry and government leaders met to discuss what has to be done to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – as agreed to in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). There’s ground for concern – half of the carbon budget (of around 1,000 gigatonnes, as estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) that would help keep that goal had already been emitted by 2011.

What can be done?

At a side event at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris on 20 May, there were a few suggestions. At the event, hosted by the Science Based Targets initiative, business, government and civil society representatives deliberated on the road ahead.
More specifically, the meeting and the Science Based Targets initiative – made up of organisations CDP, the UN Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and WWF – aimed to help business align their greenhouse-emission targets with what’s known by science.

Some 80% of the world’s 500 largest companies have set or are setting emission reduction targets. “So we have seen real progress,” said Paul Simpson, CEO of CDP, in his opening statements. “The question we are facing is, are these targets ambitious enough?”

The consensus is no. This is why the Science Based Targets initiative used the meeting to formally launch its Sectoral Decarbonisation Approach, or SDA. It breaks the business world up into sectors – such as energy, transport, food production – and is a freely available open-source methodology, based on the 2 degreeC scenario developed by the International Energy Agency.

The approach incorporates the latest climate science and representative concentration pathways (trajectories for concentrations of four greenhouse gases), and works within the constraints of the carbon budget. “It gives us a direction that companies must follow to set targets within that 2 degree C trajectory,” said Alberto Carrillo, head of Climate Business Engagement for the Global Climate and Energy Initiative at WWF International.

The meeting allowed companies – CLP Holdings, the Asian electricity company; Enel, an Italian energy company; and US food producer Mars Incorporated – to share some insights into how they had set their targets. Enel and CLP explained how they had to balance growth with their emission-reduction ambitions. Mars said how little room there was to make improvements in production efficiency. All three agreed that government regulation and renewable technologies will be key to their reduction targets. And, according to CLP, the energy sector still has mixed feelings towards nuclear energy.

Call to action

But there was consensus at the meeting that more businesses will have to be recruited to adopt science based targets if a critical mass is going to be reached. So, explained Cynthia Cummis, deputy director of GHG Protocol at WRI, the Science Based Targets initiative has launched a major campaign to do just that. The aim is to enlist 100 companies in 2015, reaching a total of 250 by 2020.

“The purpose of this campaign is, essentially, to create a tipping point,” said Cummins. “We’re hoping that these companies will set a trend to make science-based target setting a standard business practice.”

Not keeping to the 2 degree C trajectory will spell a slew of dangers. So, noted Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s Climate and Energy Initiative at the end of the meeting, a little ambition and optimism is required.

“We hope that if we’re sitting here five years from now,” said Smith, “that we will be telling a story of success, a story of leadership, a story of hope.”