When you realize you are walking towards an edge of a cliff, calculating if you have two or three steps before you fall is not the most efficient use of your time. Your survival instincts should make you take a few steps back, then turn around and start going in the opposite direction. The IPCC climate change report that was published on August 9th, puts all of us on the edge of that cliff.
The history of carbon accounting
Carbon accounting methodologies have been around for 20 years now. The first edition of the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard was published in 2001. Back then, the focus was on Scope 1 and 2 emissions, direct and indirect emissions. A Scope 3 Standard for Corporate Value Chain, was released in 2011. We are not missing reporting platforms either. The CDP, formerly The Carbon Disclosure Project, was founded in 2000 and its first Climate Change Disclosure Request was sent in 2002 on behalf of 35 investors, resulting in 245 disclosing companies. In 2020 the CDP Climate Change Disclosure Request was sent on behalf of 515 investors and 150 global purchasing organizations, representing more than $100 trillion in assets, and resulting in more than 10,000 disclosing organizations. Digital tools to help with data collection and carbon accounting are also widely available now, and the last few years saw a proliferation of net-zero declarations and newly formed coalitions. Yet, we are still walking towards that cliff.
Shifting the focus toward immediate action
What we need is a paradigm shift. Away from the focus on accounting and reporting and towards driving immediate action. Carbon accounting and reporting are not the goals, they are means to an end. Today, and for the next 10 years, carbon accounting should have one purpose, and one purpose only, inform decision making as to where and how we can rapidly reduce the most greenhouse gas emissions.
The IPCC 1.5℃ report told us that we need to reduce our carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, to have any chance of reaching net-zero by 2050, and limit the worst effects of climate change. Considering our collective history of persistently missing our climate-related targets, we can’t afford to aim at net-zero by 2050. We need to aim earlier so we will have a buffer. We need to set our sights on net-zero by 2030 because not everyone will make it by then. Some will take longer, but the leading pack will pave the way and help shorten the timeline for everyone.
That is why corporate value chain action is so important. In the business sector, your client often represents a stronger driver than regulations. If your client asks—or requires, and you want to stay in business, you do your best to comply. If your client truly believes in value-chain—as opposed to supply-chain, there is a good chance they will work with you to achieve net-zero.
When done properly, value-chain climate action can drive real action and real reductions, while lowering overall costs. If your partners in the value-chain reach net-zero, resource-intensive undertakings like calculating a product or a service carbon footprint become irrelevant. When your entire value chain is working toward net-zero, you also have economies of scale on your side.
Many of the solutions we need to reach net-zero already exist today. Project Drawdown did an excellent job at mapping and quantifying some of these solutions. Setting the sights on 2030 will expedite the development of additional solutions.
Leading the way to net-zero
Many companies, like IBM, Apple, Google, McKinsey, PWC, CGI, SNC-Lavalin, and Aon, have already pledged to be net-zero by 2030. There are also 900 B-Corp companies that have committed to net-zero by 2030. Others like Salesforce, are already operating as a net-zero company and aiming at 100% renewable energy. All of these leaders can drive real action and real GHG reductions up and down their value-chain.
The one potential thorn to be careful of is the “net” in net-zero. Real climate neutrality won’t be achieved if we all buy carbon offsets without reducing our direct and indirect emissions. Net-zero means that all GHG emissions released by humans are counterbalanced by removing GHGs from the atmosphere.
Start your journey to net-zero
So what is next? We should all acknowledge the cliff ahead of us and immediately change direction. In 2030 my daughter will be 20. I will do everything in my power to give her a net-zero world for her 20th birthday. I’m proud to work for a company that as an organization took the same commitment and is actively working to achieve this goal.