On 8 October the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a new report described as its most urgent and far-reaching call yet for greenhouse gas emissions cuts.
It compared the implications for different global average temperature increase scenarios and called for actions to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels to avoid severe environmental implications. It said that achieving the goal would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in energy, industry, buildings, transport, land use and cities.
The report comes amid growing calls for action to cut emissions among policy makers and businesses, along with a surge in individual commitments within the private sector and funding support for low-carbon innovation.
To achieve the 1.5C target and avoid “far greater than expected” consequences, the IPCC said that urgent action was needed to reduce human-caused CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 from a 2010 baseline. Allowing even half a degree more warming would increase the likelihood and severity of impacts such as extreme weather events and habitat loss, the report said. For example, the likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5C, compared with at least once per decade with 2C.
The IPCC outlined different decarbonisation pathways in which the target could be met. One option set out how by 2050 renewables could account for 70-85% of global power supplies, coal’s share would reduce to “close to zero”, carbon emissions from industry would fall by 75-90%, and investment in mitigating energy sector emissions would hit an annual average of around $900bn(£698bn)/ year from 2015-50. The report said that any delays to such a transition would mean overshooting the 1.5C goal and lead to greater reliance on unproven and expensive technologies that remove CO2 from the atmosphere, such as carbon capture and storage.
In its latest progress report to Parliament the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said that although the UK had made good progress cutting emissions since 1990, its efforts had so far focused heavily on electricity generation and waste and said there were tougher challenges ahead to meet current targets. The independent climate watchdog said that the UK must focus on decarbonisation efforts beyond the power sector if it is to meet its climate goals, particularly in transport, buildings and industry.
Calls for change
A number of businesses responded to the IPCC report by calling for the recommendations to be realised. The Aldersgate Group, an alliance of leaders from the private sector and politics, said that aiming for net zero emissions presented a “major opportunity” for UK firms. Group member Aviva Investors said it would “help safeguard our investment portfolios and protect our customers savings”, and added ”the long term negative financial consequences of climate change are far, far greater than the short-term financial risks of transitioning to the Paris Agreement.” The Business in the Community network also responded, describing the report as a “landmark in climate science”, and adding that “the time for action is now”.
There have also been growing calls in recent month’s from UK-based firms, as well as a group of cross-party MPs, for the government to set more ambitious decarbonisation targets in line with the Paris Agreement aim of limiting global warming to 1.5C. Many, including the Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders Group, have called for the UK to set a net zero emissions target for 2050, currently set at 80%.
The government has committed to consider a net zero target and was discussed during the country’s first Green GB Week from 15-19 October. The week also saw a range of commitments from government and funding pledges from around 30 private sector firms committing hundreds of millions of pounds to low-carbon projects.
Businesses leading the way
In addition, the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) highlighted a 39% year-on-year increase from January to August in the number of companies using science-based targets in line with the Paris Agreement to reduce their emissions. It said that so far in 2018 more than 130 companies had joined the almost 500-strong initiative and that now nearly a fifth (17%) of Fortune Global 500 companies had committed to such targets.
Other recent private sector commitments include Arriva now powering all of its UK sites with electricity from 100% renewable sources, Vodafone pledging to source 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2025, Aldi aiming to be carbon neutral by 2019 and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s plans to make London a net-zero carbon city by 2050 receiving support from 11 major businesses including Tesco, Sky and Siemens. However, recent research from Yale University suggested that more needs to be done after a study into emissions reduction commitments by companies and local authorities around the world claimed that they will not currently be enough to meet Paris Agreement goals.
Heightened urgency from the scientific community on tackling climate change is coinciding with action being increasingly seen as an opportunity rather than a hindrance to business, with companies investing to transition to a low-carbon economy now to reduce longer-term costs. The drive to go further, faster is only set to grow.