Why a step by step process to Net Zero is not enough

Oliver Forster, head of business development at ClimateCare explains why a step by step process to Net Zero is not enough to tackle the scale of the problem that is climate change

It’s encouraging to see an ever-increasing number of corporates committing to achieve Net Zero status. However, amidst the rush to publicly declare this intention, there remains some debate and discussion about what constitutes a robust and practical corporate strategy for achieving Net Zero.

When talking to clients, they often say that they are working hard to measure their footprint and set reduction targets, but admit that they are waiting to get this right before they take action to reduce and compensate for their emissions. And certainly, whilst these provisional steps are much needed, setting these long-term targets does little for the environmental damage being done right now. Companies need to take full responsibility for all their emissions produced both today and tomorrow. Our advice therefore is to drive actions simultaneously and at pace, and then modify and adjust moving forward. Put simply, we are up against a deadline to tackle climate change, and there isn’t time to take things one step at a time. Ultimately, it is today’s emissions that are causing tomorrow’s climate change and we need organisations to take full responsibility for their carbon emissions right now.

We need to more than halve emissions by 2030; this is equivalent to reducing the current emissions of China, India, the EU and the US combined. To make this happen, we need to use every tool in the box and do it quickly. And whilst this may seem daunting for many corporates, we cannot stress enough that this is achievable. Not only that, if they do get this right, they could well find themselves at a competitive advantage.

First off, companies will need to understand their current emissions. There are multiple ways to do this and third party companies such as The Carbon Trust can be a great help in getting this detail. Ultimately understanding the footprint is the first step in driving change and by doing this upfront work, companies are raising awareness of the issue internally.

After this these companies can then set targets for reduction that are based on science. The SBTi (Science Based Targets initiative) can help a company set appropriate targets. However, this can take time. And it’s time, that sadly, we just don’t have.

As such, during this time, companies should identify and action quick wins too. For instance, they might put an internal price on carbon to focus minds and drive innovation. They might also source as much of their energy as possible from renewable sources, and they might engage their whole team in making immediate reductions and in developing plans for systematic change to reach their reduction targets. All of these are great mechanisms to drive change and raise awareness.

In addition, companies can also consider developing low carbon products or business models. These can help turn climate change from a risk into a competitive business strategy. A recent survey by B Lab UK and ReGenerate revealed that 72% of the UK population believe business have a legal responsibility to the planet and people, alongside maximising profits. As such, we can be sure that it does make real business sense to do this and can make the difference between a consumer buying from a brand or not. And actually, it can also make the difference between a great candidate deciding to work for a company and a firm retaining great talent.

We would contend that offsetting shouldn’t be the final tick on the checklist. Instead we would suggest that firms can take responsibility right away by offsetting their current carbon emissions, whilst they put plans in place for reduction.

For companies to go Climate Neutral by offsetting all emissions through high quality, independently verified carbon reduction (avoidance and removal) projects, is an important component in the journey to Net Zero. It’s something every business can do today. And it’s the only way a company can take full responsibility for its current carbon footprint. This is because going Climate Neutral today compensates for a company’s existing carbon footprint immediately. This status should then be maintained whilst the firm takes steps to reduce its emissions as close to zero as possible, in line with a SBT. In time the size of that company’s footprint will reduce and the amount they need to compensate for will reduce. The organisation will become Net Zero when it reaches its science-based carbon reduction target and compensates for all its remaining emissions. They could then even go as far to work towards becoming carbon negative and take even more of a competitive share.

In going Climate Neutral today, companies can take immediate action right now, whilst they set themselves on course to meet their longer-term Net Zero target. Avoiding the climate catastrophe is not a step by step process, rather it’s a whole host of actions that need to be taken both simultaneously and immediately.