We must all act swiftly to reduce our impact on the Earth or face catastrophe, warns Sarah Stone
The Earth is in trouble. The influential Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has just published the first detailed examination of the state of our planet’s biodiversity since 2005.
It is the work of more than 400 experts from over 50 countries, and its findings paint an ominous picture of a planet that is rapidly deteriorating. We are consuming resources and polluting the planet at an unsustainable rate. Human activity has resulted in the severe alteration of more than 75 per cent of Earth’s land areas. Over one million species of plants and animals are facing extinction. Sixty-six per cent of the oceans which cover most of the planet’s surface have suffered significant human impacts and there are more than 400 so-called ‘dead zones’ where virtually no life survives.
At the same time the planet is getting hotter. In October, 2018 the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced that we need to keep the average global temperature increase down to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels if we want a planet our children can live on. Given that the planet is already one degree warmer than it was during the years 1850-1900 that doesn’t give us much room for manoeuvre.
It might not sound like much but a temperature rise of even half a degree would be catastrophic. In order to stop the world warming up by more than 1.5 degrees we need to cut carbon pollution by 45 per cent by 2030 and get it down to net zero by 2050. 2030 is just 11 years away. After that, it will be too late.
The scale of the challenge ahead massive. There’s no way the kind of systemic, large scale industrial and sector-wide change we need can be done without government intervention. The way we live our lives must change significantly. Massive funding and policy initiatives will be required in order to force necessary changes in consumer behaviour and stimulate new technologies. It will be painful and expensive.
But we can’t leave it all to government. Governments are slow; policy- making and implementation takes time the planet doesn’t have. We have 11 years. It took the IPCC three years just to write their report. Almost all the mechanisms that control the change we need are held by the private sector. CEOs and business leaders can implement initiatives which make obvious sense without waiting for legislation to force them to do it.
Trees remain the most powerful tool we have in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As well as ending deforestation we need to plant billions of them. If you own land and property get the Woodland Trust to help you plant trees around your offices, factories, shops and business premises. If your business operations are global support social enterprises like One Tree Planted who are having a transformational impact in regions that have been badly impacted by deforestation.
Reduce the amount of meat, and meat-related products you sell and supply. Have entirely meat-free days in your canteens. Scrutinise your supply chain. Work with charities like WasteAid and Wrap to improve your commercial recycling rate.
Decarbonise the sources of heat in your buildings and use renewable energy to power your offices and infrastructure. Put solar panels on your roofs. Corporate power purchase agreements guarantee a reliable supply of clean energy for your business and they are being offered by renewable energy companies like Vattenfall in smaller and more accessible amounts. Install electric vehicle charging points in your car parks, and make them available to both your staff and members of the public. Actively phase out all non-electric vehicles in your corporate fleet.
Invest in companies, technologies and industries like Crop One whose vertical farming system promises to revolutionise food production, or Boston Metal, who have developed technology to electrify steelmaking and reduce carbon emissions in the process.
There is no way we are going to be able to achieve the changes we need to make in the time we need to make them without the private sector stepping up and the commercial benefits are clear. As well as helping ensure the survival of the only planet we can live on, it will build trust with consumers, strengthen your brand, and help you attract and retain staff and customers alike.
Best of all you will get ahead of the legislation which is coming. The UK government has said it is “on a path to become the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely”. By taking the lead and implementing changes in advance you will find government ministers, policy-makers and key stakeholders will come to you. Think of all the money that would save you on your public affairs bill.
Sarah Stone is director of social Value creation agency Samtaler www.samtaler.co.uk which helps businesses identify ways they can use their resources to address issues in the markets and places where they operate and create social, economic and environmental benefits for society