The IPCC climate report pulled no punches. Here’s how your business can respond

The IPCC’s landmark report on the impact of climate change should be our final wake up call. We have a small window of opportunity to limit warming to 1.5C and avoid climate catastrophe, but it’s going to require unprecedented and collective change.

The pressure is on world governments to go further, faster, but the private sector too must play its part. In the words of the IPCC, “Every bit of warming matters. Every year matters. Every choice matters.”

At least a fifth of the world’s 2,000 largest companies have committed to net zero targets so far. But to make a real difference, every target needs to be backed up with a robust and credible roadmap – and action needs to start now.

Here are three pointers on how to set an impactful net zero pathway that meets the scale of the challenge.

1. Set your net zero target in line with science

To limit warming to 1.5°C, CO2 emissions fall by about 45% by 2030 (from 2010 levels) and reach net zero by around 2050. Corporate net zero strategies should also be in line with this 1.5C pathway; and interim targets are key. Net zero is a marathon, not a sprint and speeding up just before the finish line will be too late. So, you should be aiming to halve emissions by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050 at the latest (many companies have set earlier targets). The Science-Based Targets Initiative sets the standard for credible emissions reduction pathways and is soon to publish the first science-based global standard for corporate net-zero targets.

2. Tackle your value chain emissions

Scope 3 emissions are greenhouse gas emissions associated with the activities of a business, but not directly generated by that business or the energy it uses. They include supplier and distributor emissions, as well as the emissions caused by customers using your product or service.  The best estimates place Scope 3 emissions somewhere between 80% and 97% of total emissions for a large business, so it’s crucial that any credible net zero plan includes a strategy for tackling these, no matter how challenging. You will probably find it delivers a whole host of benefits to your organisation.

3. Prioritise reduction over removal

The focus of any net zero strategy should first be on emissions reduction first, and any carbon offsetting strategy needs careful thought. It’s not the panacea; Oxfam has recently warned that if used at scale, land-based carbon removal methods such as mass tree planting could lead to land grabs and famine, with global food prices predicted to surge by 80 percent by 2050.

When given careful consideration, offsetting does have a positive role to play in parallel with genuine emissions reduction and will help to address emissions which are currently difficult to abate because the technology isn’t there yet. To help you navigate this path there are excellent, widely recognised standards for offsetting in place, including the Verified Carbon Standard and Gold Standard. You may want to consider carbon insetting, which can have huge benefits within your value chain.

For further guidance on setting your roadmap to net zero, download our pocket guide.