Net Zero – What Is All The Fuss About?

Net Zero – What Is All The Fuss About?

Published June 23, 2023

3 minute read

With so many cost-of-living burdens and extremely sad times across the world, some could be forgiven for asking this question. With so much pressure on organisations and supply chains across the globe, why should they add to their already-long lists of concerns? Even if more than seventy countries have set Net Zero target dates – including the US, Canada, the UK and the EU nations – how can a 2050 goal be an action priority today?

The scientific reality is that – to avert the worst impacts of climate change – we must limit global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and 196 countries adopted the Paris Agreement eight years ago to target that. However, the world is already around 1.1°C warmer and greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. To have any hope of keeping to the 1.5°C limit, emissions must be nearly halved by 2030 and reach Net Zero by 2050 – effectively making them as close to zero as possible and re-absorbing any that remain.

The UN describes this as “one of the greatest challenges humankind has faced” and reminds us that we are not on track – governments need businesses, communities and every person to play their part. Unless we all act (and faster) now, global emissions will actually increase almost 11% by 2030. So, the ‘fuss’ over Net Zero is that it is not a ‘nice to have’ but it is the only route to preserving a liveable planet for our children and their future generations.

The UK is set for Net Zero Week at the start of July 2023, and many other nations will mark the sixteenth Zero Emissions Day on 21 September – a worldwide movement that started in Canada to focus on global warming and air pollution.

Last year, Finland adopted its updated Climate Change Act, setting a target of Net Zero emissions by 2035 – one of the most ambitious climate goals in the developed world. The ‘fuss’ over Net Zero is growing by the day.

For businesses, the reality is that Net Zero is here now – in client questions for bids and tenders, in staff and wider stakeholder expectations and on the balance sheet in terms of surging energy prices. Whilst the most effective Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategies will give equal weight to all three pillars of sustainability, there’s little doubt that climate change action is the noisiest ‘chick in the nest’ and Net Zero has become a mainstream issue. According to the Science Based Targets Initiative, Net Zero pledges covered just 16% of the global economy in 2019 but have grown nearly six-fold to encompass 92% of global GDP over the last 4 years.

Despite tough trading conditions, customers, the public, investors and social commentators still have high expectations of businesses. The most forward-thinking and ultimately most promising organisations accept this as part of their ‘licence to trade’ and are working to track their carbon footprints, target ‘early wins’ and at least be on the journey towards Net Zero. In a recent census, the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that two in every three businesses were either already reducing their greenhouse gas emissions or planning to act over the coming year.

The ONS also found that two common ‘barriers to action’ for businesses were the perceived costs of implementing change, alongside uncertainty of how to measure their emissions. Over the past year, energy price inflation rates surged to exceptional levels – peaking at over 41% in the EU in June 2022 – with gas specifically rising even higher and peaking at 74% in the autumn. With that backdrop, cutting energy use (and therefore carbon) has literally become key to balancing the books. At the same time, there have never been so many user-friendly, flexible data management technology solutions available to track and establish certainty over carbon metrics.

In that context, executive management teams which continue to cite cost and complexity as reasons for not embracing the Net Zero journey might be seen as slow-to-act (at best) or irresponsibly negligent (at worst). Moreover – customers, staff and shareholders are watching.

To achieve Net Zero, organisations must cut their carbon emissions to an irreducible minimum – for example, through energy efficiency programmes and renewable alternatives – and then invest in projects which remove an equivalent amount of carbon from the earth’s atmosphere.

The first step on that journey is, of course, knowing what those carbon emissions are – establishing ‘one true view’ of their carbon footprint. According to the Boston Consulting Group, only 9% of global companies measure carbon footprint correctly, so robust data visibility has become an essential weapon for organisations to tackle climate change.

Working with clients in multiple sectors across the world – from small companies to multinational enterprises – we’ve identified 6 steps to get started on the Climate Action Journey:

  • Check – which parts of your organisation will be in scope, what records and data exist already
  • Assess – what tracking you need to set up (gap analysis) and how to present your carbon ‘story’
  • Record – choose an appropriate carbon management technology tool to collect and track data
  • Brainstorm – engage your people, clients and suppliers to review and understand your data
  • Order – put some practical actions and initiatives in order and build a Carbon Reduction Plan
  • Numbers – bring the numbers together, and use that evaluation to decide on next steps

On a final note, and returning to our title question, now is the time (if you’re not doing so already) to create a bit of fuss over Net Zero. It can be an exceptionally powerful way to engage your people – particularly as so many of them are genuinely keen for the companies they work for to tackle climate change. Achieving Net Zero relies on people understanding and acting on the simple changes they can make to lifestyles at work and at home.

Download our latest guide on Targeting Net Zero Carbon: Climate Action Within ESG Strategies

Author David Picton

David is EcoOnline’s Senior Vice-President of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). Working with global customers across multiple sectors to support their ESG objectives and strategies, he designed the EcoOnline ESG software platform and is a former Chief Sustainability Officer. An original Board member of the Supply Chain Sustainability School, David also achieved the Queen’s Enterprise Award for Sustainable Development and presented to the UN in Geneva on responsible business. Before EcoOnline, he held executive roles in the technology, media, infrastructure and public sectors, founded an independent consultancy and served as a senior military officer.

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