Climate change: Greenwashing by business and politicians is driving us further down the highway to hell – Stephen Jardine

“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator,” said United Nations' chief António Guterres as the COP27 climate summit opened in Egypt.

The M8 motorway may not be the highway to hell, but Scotland's busiest road just got a bit busier (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
The M8 motorway may not be the highway to hell, but Scotland's busiest road just got a bit busier (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Here in Scotland, we are playing our own small part in that. The M8 may not exactly be the highway to hell but it is Scotland’s busiest road and for the past few weeks it has been a little bit busier. That is thanks to contractors from East Dunbartonshire driving through to the capital to resurface a small suburban street on behalf of Edinburgh Council.

Pre-global warming that made no sense whatsoever but in the climate emergency it’s the definition of insanity, but because of public-sector procurement rules, common sense doesn’t get a look in.

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Local authorities have to follow strict procurement rules and the principles of the process are outlined on the Scottish Government website: “The sustainable procurement duty requires that before a contracting authority buys anything, it must think about how it can improve the social, environmental and economic well-being of the area in which it operates, with a particular focus on reducing inequality.”

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You might think the best way to do that would be to use local workers, not add to M8’s traffic but what does common sense matter when it comes to drafting ‘word salads’ for the web? Aside from the folly of it all, there is a serious point here. We are in a climate crisis and the clock is ticking down.

According to a recent report from the House of Lords’ Environment and Climate Change Committee, a third of the UK’s emissions reductions can come from individuals but the big burden still lies with businesses and organisations. By changing what they do and how they do it, they can have a huge impact on emissions, but that is hard; for many, it is just easier to greenwash and talk the talk than really walk the walk.

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Greta Thunberg has refused to attend COP27 over greenwashing and the chief executive of the UK Government’s Climate Change Committee, Chris Stark, has warned it threatens to undermine the credibility of the journey to net zero.

This week a new UN greenwashing watchdog published standards by which organisations should be judged on their green credentials. It should start with some honesty and that begins at home. Allowing Coca Cola, dubbed “the world’s top polluter” by environment groups, to sponsor COP27 was a mistake.

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And so it goes on. Fifa is advertising this month’s World Cup in Qatar as the “first ever carbon neutral tournament” despite the fact that it was paid for using oil and gas revenues and construction of the stadiums involved the death of perhaps thousands of foreign workers. The public has a right to expect organisations to be open and transparent about their environmental impact.

As the dramatic testimonies at COP27 have laid bare, doing nothing is no longer an option. If that means changing procurement laws to increase the emphasis given to carbon footprint, than that has to happen.

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And companies and organisations that deliberately mislead or choose to do nothing need to be held to account by government and to face the consequences in the court of public opinion. As the world warms, it will be actions not words that really matter.

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