Geneva, Switzerland, 11 December 2019 – Four years after the Paris Climate Agreement, tangible action from governments is falling short of trajectories needed to restrict global warming to 1.5° Celsius. This is well documented in the recently released UN Environment Closing the Gap report. To date, however, a minority of businesses are taking the necessary steps to reduce emissions and of those who are, much more ambition will be required based on the findings of a new report, The Net Zero Challenge, published today by the World Economic Forum.
The report is released as negotiators gather in Madrid at COP25 to discuss the finer details of the Paris Agreement which called for emissions reductions of 3-5% per year. This is a long way off the annual increase in emissions of 1.5% that we are seeing today.
“2020 is a crucial year for delivering on climate action ambition and it is vital that governments and businesses now work together. For both the public and private sector, collaborative action on climate can spur rapid innovation, growth and jobs in a sluggish economic outlook; what the world needs is a combination of public ambition, policy certainty and company leadership to create a tipping point,” said Dominic Waughray, Managing Director at the World Economic Forum.
Governments: from a slow start, climate action ambitions are growing to address the challenge
67 countries have to date stated an ambition to reach net zero emissions by 2050. These countries account for c.15% of global GHG emissions. Of these countries, sixteen (accounting for less than 6% of emissions) have developed roadmaps and intermediate targets; and even fewer – seven – countries have instituted policy frameworks that could realistically support reaching a net zero emission goal. These countries – Bhutan, Costa Rica, Denmark, Iceland, The Netherlands, Suriname, Sweden, - account for just 2% of global GHG emissions.
The report does, however, find signs of progress that some governments are beginning to set ambitious climate targets. For example, Morocco has developed the world’s largest concentrated solar farm with a goal of sourcing 50% of its electricity from renewable sources in just 10 years. India is currently implementing the largest renewable power programme in the world, targeting 175 GW of installed capacity by 2022.
The report, done in collaboration with Boston Consulting Group (BCG), also finds signs of action at the sub-national level. For example, the state of South Australia is targeting 50% renewable power by 2025. In the United States, meanwhile, seven states are targeting zero-carbon energy systems by 2050.
Overall, the report adds to the evidence that there is much political work to be done to raise ambition levels for climate action ahead of when the Paris Agreement is due to begin in November 2020.
Companies and Climate Action: A New Impetus is Required
When it comes to companies and emissions, the report highlights the gap in corporate ambition that must be closed. While 7,000 businesses disclose their emissions to CDP, a non-profit organization that monitors global emissions, the report finds that only a third provide full disclosure, only a quarter set a specific emissions reduction target and only one in eight are so far reducing their emissions year-on-year.
The report also finds that, on average, both short-term and long-term targets are about half of what are needed for a 1.5°C world; on average, short-term targets currently aim for minus 15% instead of minus 30% reductions; while longer-term targets on average currently aim for 50% reductions instead of net zero by mid-century.
There is, however, some variation across industries. Financial and energy companies, are the most advanced when it comes to disclosing, setting targets and reducing emissions; and emissions reductions in the power sector provide a good case on how other sectors might respond to a mixture of smart policies and demand signals. In each sector there are examples of corporations acting decisively to build a first-mover competitive advantage through higher efficiency, lower risks and new green revenues.
The report identifies two major reasons why corporate climate action has so far not reached a tipping point. One is that chief executive officers still find themselves under greater pressure to deliver short-term returns than to demonstrate progress against climate goals. A plethora of ESG (environmental, societal and corporate governance) guidelines is not helping to create clarity or a clear benchmark to judge performance, leading - in the words of one banking CEO - to “real confusion and little action” in the investment world. The other is the lack of reliable policy frameworks at national and international level. All 25 CEOs interviewed as part of the project confirmed, for example, that without a meaningful price on carbon the transition cannot be accelerated at the speed and scale needed.
A call to action from the World Economic Forum
Whilst diplomatic and multilateral political efforts during 2020 will focus on raising ambition levels among governments, the World Economic Forum will use its platforms to promote a complimentary call to action for higher ambition levels among companies and the finance community and for more partnerships. This call for action, which will start in Davos 2020, includes:
An updated Davos Manifesto for 2020 on the universal purpose of a company, which notes that a company is more than an economic unit generating wealth, will be presented to all CEOs to consider. The Manifesto calls for performance to be measured not only on the return to shareholders but also on how it achieves it environmental, social and good governance objectives.
An initiative underway with the Forum’s International Business Council to develop a definitive methodology for standard ESG principles that companies can adopt as a complement to standard financial metrics with support from the “Big Four” accounting firms, which will include common approaches on climate emissions target setting and tracking
The release of a catalogue of “Lighthouse Projects” that show concrete examples of how many leading companies are setting and implementing bold emissions reduction strategies in line with net zero by mid-century, and how other companies can join or replicate these efforts. Such Lighthouse Projects include the Mission Possible Platform, RE100, the UN-convened Net Zero Asset Owners Alliance, the CDSB and over 50 other specific examples of company actions and public-private collaborations in the climate and wider environmental agenda.
To support these efforts, the Forum has also convened a community of CEO Climate Leaders; these are leaders of some of the world’s largest businesses that are committed to support assertive climate action.
"Climate change is the single greatest threat that humanity faces. Businesses that don’t take climate action will be punished by their stakeholders as well as by the planet,” said Alan Jope, CEO, Unilever.
This press release was updated midday on 11 December at 2019. The first image was added from the report and headline updated to reflect the call to action.
All opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Economic Forum Blog is an independent and neutral platform dedicated to generating debate around the key topics that shape global, regional and industry agendas.