How does one even begin to talk about the year that was 2020? Vaughan Lindsay, CEO of ClimateCare
It was a year full of uncertainly and one which presented challenges for so many people. Not only has the pandemic affected our health and personal lives, but it has also fundamentally challenged our political, social, and economic norms too. And indeed, it continues to do so too as we remain in lockdown and continue to see rates of infection increasing.
I think most notably though, the impact that the pandemic has had on how many of us think about tackling the big issues like climate change has been huge. It’s because of this – and despite its challenges – that 2020 was actually quite an encouraging year for those of us involved in fighting the climate crisis.
Increasing ambition from corporates and governments alike
For instance, 2020 saw record levels in corporate ambition on climate change, as companies looked to ‘build back better’ and place purpose at the heart of their business. Not only this, but we also witnessed corporates redoubling their efforts to tackle the climate crisis as well and saw many big brands sign up to the UN Race to Zero (in fact the figures doubled in 2020 which was fantastic).
Global politics also started to align too. You may have seen that the US made commitments to re-join the Paris Agreement, China made a commitment to Net Zero and the UK government also been pushing mandatory reporting of the business impacts of climate change by 2025. Even more recently, and towards the back end of 2020, the UK also increased its ambition to cut emissions by 68% by 2030 based on 1990 levels.
Action hiding behind plans
And certainly, for us here at ClimateCare, it’s been ever so encouraging to see an ever-increasing number of corporates committing to achieve Net Zero status. Saying that, whilst it is great to see firms working hard to measure their footprint and set reduction targets, many firms have admitted that they are waiting to get this right before they take action to reduce and compensate for their emissions. This attitude has been a concern for us over the past 12 months. Because, whilst these plans and long-term targets are truly commendable, they do little for the environmental damage that is being done right now; today and tomorrow. In fact, there is a risk of action hiding behind plans.
Many in the industry will be aware that 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. This is, quite frankly, a mammoth task. Our advice therefore to clients over this past year has been to consider driving actions simultaneously and at pace, and then modifying and adjusting moving forward. In simple terms, there really hasn’t been time, and indeed isn’t time any longer, to take things one step at a time. We need to take action right away.
Validation and consensus
Saying that though, there is a great deal of hope as we move through 2021. Not least because we are seeing more and more experienced professionals and organisations (such as WWF, SBTi, Oxford University, UN and the Taskforce) all agreeing with the rationale that we cannot reach Net Zero without including external emission reductions and offsetting emissions. This acknowledgement by experts across the board of the vital role of offsetting, is of course, just the beginning and we are likely to see this filter down more into policy too.
Perhaps another key event of 2020, was the Taskforce on scaling the voluntary carbon markets launching its consultation paper in November 2020. This paper aimed to identify ways to scale the voluntary carbon markets by up to 160 times to help tackle climate change. It was great to see the experts agreeing with our long-held rationale and acknowledging that taking responsibility for today’s emissions through carbon offsetting is essential if we are to meet our Net Zero targets and prevent catastrophic climate change.
As a project developer ourselves here at ClimateCare, we will be keen to see how the Taskforce can help to unlock new demand and finance for project development in 2021, helping us deliver more emission reductions from high quality projects. As always, the devil will be in the detail and more will play out on this as we move through the year. Certainly though, as this and other interest in the voluntary carbon market develops, our primary concern and focus remains on continuing to scale our activity to finance, manage and develop robust and effective carbon reduction projects that both cut carbon and improve lives. This, of course, has been a major focus throughout 2020, despite the pandemic, and will continue to be this year as we move through 2021 too.
Turning plans into action
As we look ahead in this year, we should also see more of these ambitious plans and statements put into practice, as companies continue to turn their plans (and pledges) into action. Ultimately the environment for ambitious action has never been better, be it via the UK Government’s 10-point green plan or the recommendation to help scale the voluntary carbon markets and this certainly provides an exciting outlook for next year.
This year will also bring about the postponed COP26, which provides a real opportunity to clarify how to implement the Paris agreement and bolster international carbon markets. The US re-joining the Paris agreement adds further weight to this and hopefully we can help forge true international cooperation moving forward too. These will of course be great accelerators for the industry overall, however as previously mentioned, the key here is for corporates to act now rather than waiting on policy decisions because time is of the essence.
We believe that the issue of climate change is now central to nearly all forward-thinking corporates and this year will present one of the most encouraging environments for them to act on this. Never before has it been so vital to ensure that the role of the voluntary carbon market delivers real additional emission reductions on the ground and at scale.
With this in mine, let’s make 2021 the year of increasing action to build on last year’s increasing ambition. Because the climate will not respond to targets, it will only respond to carbon cuts. It is action that really counts this year.