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Corporate Climate Action Aims Higher to Lead the Way to a 1.5°C Future

Image credit: Jakub Gorajek

With the signing of the Paris Agreement, governments resolved to pursue efforts to go beyond the agreed 2°C goal and limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. However, nearly two years later, national and organizational commitments that align with a 1.5°C pathway are practically non-existent. A new report from Carbon Trust, however, aims to help position businesses to lead the low-carbon transition.

According to the latest UN projections, meeting the national emissions reduction pledges made in Paris would put the world on track for between 2.9 to 3.4oC of warming this century. And this was prior to the US withdrawal from the agreement.

However, where governments are failing to deliver on their Paris commitments, businesses are revving up efforts to drive down impacts and align their operations with planetary boundaries. Three examples are BT, Carlsberg Group and Tesco, all of which recently became the first significant emitters of CO2 globally to reveal that they have set science-based targets to align their own emissions reductions along a trajectory in line with achieving a 1.5°C goal. These commitments have since been mirrored by a similar pledge by the government of New York City.

“Ten years ago we set ourselves the goal of becoming a zero-carbon business by 2050. We’ve made huge steps forward over the past decade which are saving us around £200 million a year just from our electricity bills. But our current rate of improvement still doesn’t put us on track to get to zero soon enough, so we have introduced even tougher targets to put us in line with what will be required to hit the 1.5°C aspiration in the Paris agreement. As part of this, we have committed to use 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030,” said Kené Umeasiegbu, Head of Environment at Tesco.

“As a retailer we know the majority of the emissions associated with our business come from our supply chain — including agriculture emissions. To act on this, we will be working with our suppliers to encourage them to also adopt a credible, science-based approach to cutting carbon, with the goal of reducing our indirect emissions by 17 percent by 2030.”

To support organizations that want to set their own 1.5°C goals, the Carbon Trust has launched a new report, Aim Higher: How can business help achieve the 1.5°C ambition in the Paris Agreement? The report is based on a series of engagements with businesses and wider stakeholders from government, academia and NGOs to explore how to overcome the challenges in aligning corporate climate action with a 1.5°C pathway.

“The science tells us that 1.5°C is possible in principle, but it will require bold action to get our economy close to zero emissions by the middle of the century,” said Hugh Jones, Managing Director of Business Advice at Carbon Trust.

“The good news is that major corporates can now genuinely see a roadmap to zero carbon, a route which can be profitable both for businesses and the planet. Setting high ambition goals helps to create a virtuous circle of climate action, giving policy makers the confidence to push harder, creating a market that will reward more sustainable businesses and encouraging the development of the innovative products we will need to solve climate change.”

“At BT we are proud that we have become one of the first companies globally to commit to a higher ambition science-based target, aligned with what is required to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Of course, this will be challenging, but we can now see a clear path to understand how this can be achieved in a way that is not just good for the environment, but also good for us as a business and for the wider economy,” said Gabrielle Ginér, Head of Sustainable Business Policy at BT. “But the only way we can achieve a 1.5°C world is through collaboration and collective effort, so we would love to share what we have done to help other companies accelerate their efforts.”

The report includes practical recommendations such as how to make the transition to zero carbon electricity and transportation, as well as exploring how to build a business case towards the more radical changes that will enable companies in most sectors to reach net zero carbon emissions by the middle of this century. Steps include investing in energy efficiency, developing a roadmap to zero emissions, setting science-based targets and using an internal carbon price.

The report also discusses longer term opportunities for businesses to introduce negative emissions options that actively remove carbon from the atmosphere later this century, which will be required under the majority of scenarios where 1.5°C is likely. These range from natural solutions such as tree planting and better land management, through to technologies that will require innovation and cost reduction such as carbon negative building products or bioenergy with carbon capture and storage.


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