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Big Business, time to step up on global warming: this is a clarion call

Big business is stepping up to combat global warming
Big business is stepping up to combat global warming

We can’t stop global warming entirely but we can still try to make it safer, the IPCC says, as more than 480 global companies, with a combined market capitalisation of nearly $14 trillion agree.

This week, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release its special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5oC. This report is part of an effort by eminent scientists to publish every six years the latest peer-reviewed scientific information on climate change.

WWF has followed these scientific developments very closely in the hope it will help ramp up ambitions under the Paris Agreement to keep warming as far below 2oC as possible and preferably 1.5oC. The reason for this is simple. A world that is 1.5oC warmer will be more dangerous than the present but still safer than a 2oC world, in terms of climate impacts on humans, settlements and ecosystems.

For those who follow this subject closely, there are few surprises. The science reinforces the importance of rapid and deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible to improve the chances of limiting global warming to 1.5oC. The carbon budget, that is, the amount of carbon the planet can afford to burn before it heads over the 1.5oC threshold is diminishing and this means we need a step change in acting to reduce emissions, to be net-zero carbon before 2050.

All of us must do our fair share in putting our shoulder to the wheel to reduce our emissions footprint, but it’s clear that big business and investors have a big stake in making a climate-safe future and are the biggest influence in making this happen.  Consumers and stakeholders are expecting far more from companies to deliver on these challenges, particularly in the absence of strong political leadership in Australia.

In my work, I speak to companies every day about reducing emissions and managing climate risk. And there has been an upswing of interest from big business worldwide.

Globally, big business is stepping up to the challenge of setting long-term science-based emission reduction targets, purchasing clean renewable electricity and engaging deeply with their supply chains to ensure their products are sourced from suppliers that can demonstrate similar commitments. These are straightforward actions companies can take.

More than 480 global companies, with a combined market capitalisation of nearly AUD $14 trillion, have joined the Science Based Targets Initiative.

They have set or are committed to set science-based climate targets. Investors are also highly engaged in the conversation particularly with Initiatives like Climate Action100+. Even

News Corp gets it, joining Origin and Singtel-Optus

Many global companies such as Unilever and Walmart are engaging deeply with their supply chain. Even the US-listed News Corporation has set a long term science-based target for its scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions out to 2025 and 2030.

Companies such as Origin Energy and Singtel-Optus are also coming to the table, demonstrating that long term thinking on climate risk is prudent and should eventually become standard business practice. Barely a week goes by when I haven’t spoken to a top 100 ASX company across all industry sectors on reducing emissions.

At a recent Supply Chain Sustainability School event, companies admitted that setting scope 3 targets is difficult because indirect emissions from supply chains, tenants and transport are not within their control, and therefore harder to achieve.

Influencing behaviour is crucial and innovation is part of success

However, companies acknowledged the importance of being able to influence behaviour as a critical component of achieving genuine change. And it can’t be business as usual. Construction and engineering firms recognised that to set long-term and ambitious targets, they need to get innovative with new product and services offerings.

We’ve also seen a big shift in the way business is purchasing renewable electricity. Traditionally, procurement officers have re-contracted with their retailer on a one- or three- year basis for black electricity with some businesses buying GreenPower

Power purchase agreements have jumped strongly

But more and more big businesses are entering into long-term Power Purchase Agreements as a hedge against ongoing price volatility. There is likely to be about 1700MW of large scale corporate PPAs contracted in 2018 with the likes of Sydney Airport, Bluescope, Orora, Mars and CUB, as well as the South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy. By way of comparison, in 2016 renewable PPAs made up less than 200 MW of electricity.

While there is still a lot of complexity in the energy market, there is a need to help companies as well as other large energy consumers (think universities, councils and hospitals) with an independent portal for information, education and support. WWF-Australia has partnered with the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures and ClimateKIC to establish the Business Renewables Centre here in Australia. The Centre will provide services to businesses and other large organisations looking to purchase renewable electricity through a long-term PPAs.

You don’t choose to be a Cassandra of Troy. For those working on climate change and having to square off against politicians and climate deniers, sometimes it can feel like you are the only sane person in the room. We are already experiencing unprecedented warming, coral bleaching and droughts across Qld and NSW that is more severe than seen before. Local governments and investors are already talking about further climate adaptation and investing in climate resilience.

Nearly 18 years ago, as a wet-behind-the-ears climate campaigner, I was told we had 10 years to make a change before runaway climate change became inevitable. That timeframe has come and gone, and even as I have watched the rate of global emissions creep inexorably upwards, I still haven’t given up on 1.5oC.  I am resting my hope on the progressive business community doing the heavy lift and encouraging their customers and supply chains to do the same.

Monica Richter is senior manager, Low Carbon Futures, WWF-Australia

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