Business is picking up the pace ahead of the Paris climate summit

Anna Skarbek, Monash University

Last week 12 Australian companies committed to strong measures to tackle climate change at the Australian Climate Leadership Summit in Sydney. Many of these companies are household names, including the National Australia Bank, Westpac, AGL and Origin.

The announcement followed the peak bodies’ statement in June pledging their support to the global goal of limiting climate change to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and acknowledging that this will require most countries, including Australia, eventually to reduce net emissions to zero or below.

The commitment by these companies is consistent with ClimateWorks Australia’s research with ANU and CSIRO that shows Australia can substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions – to net zero by 2050 – while still growing the economy.

These announcements signal the momentum of business action on climate change is increasing in the lead-up to the Paris conference. It also sends a signal to the Australian Government that even greater emissions reductions are possible.

Businesses leading the way

In Australia and around the world, many businesses are adapting to the challenges of climate change and moving towards a low carbon economy. These businesses are making the shift from seeing climate change mitigation as a cost, to seeing it as an opportunity.

Partly this is been driven by businesses wanting to mitigate risk, rising energy costs and respond to stakeholders’ concerns about climate change. Yet, the Paris climate process has also been a catalyst for many new groups of businesses taking action.

One such action group, We Mean Business started just 14 months ago asking businesses to sign up to its seven pledges including adopting a science-based target, putting a price on carbon, and purchasing 100% of electricity from renewable sources.

To date, over 250 companies and 144 investors have signed up to more than 600 commitments to tackle climate change. These companies represent US$5.7 trillion in total revenue and US$19.5 trillion in assets under management.

About 40 Australian companies have signed on to key climate commitments, including Australia’s largest energy retailer, Origin Energy, which signed up to all seven of the commitments.

Over 20 large multinational companies including Goldman Sachs, H&M, IKEA, Nike, Mars, Nestle, Unilever and Swiss have joined the RE100 initiative and have committed to going 100% renewable.

Pledges are compiled by the United Nations’ NAZCA platform, which registers all commitments to climate action by companies, cities, subnational regions and investors to address climate change. To date, more than 900 cities, 100 regions, 1,700 companies and 400 investors around the world have pledged over 6,500 commitments to reduce emissions.

In a similar vein, a group of international business leaders, running some of the world’s largest companies, established The B Team to push for a better way of doing business that takes account of the wellbeing of people and the planet.

The organisation recently called on governments to commit to a global goal of net zero emissions by 2050 and will shortly be announcing companies pledging to be net zero companies.

Putting words into action

Progressive companies have begun setting ambitious emissions reduction targets, reporting emissions and shifting to low carbon technologies. Others are turning ideas into reality and delivering practical solutions on the ground.

For example, construction company SOM sculptured the 309-metre-tall Pearl River Tower in China so it directs wind to in-built turbines that generate energy for the building.

Car and battery company Tesla is set on developing a mass market for electric vehicles. There is already a solar plane travelling around the world.

Energy giant AGL announced it will close down its coal-fired power stations in 2050 (still too slow but a strong first step from the sector), Shell is stopping drilling for oil in the Artic, and Australia’s major banks are also making overarching commitments to limit global warming to 2℃.

Deeper cuts possible

There is no doubt the momentum is building for businesses to go “green”. So too is the ability to do it, thanks to rapid advancements in technology. Businesses are putting themselves in the spotlight and willing to be held accountable to their shareholders for their environmental management.

However, Australia cannot just rely on business action if we are to achieve the substantial emissions reductions needed to avoid dangerous climate change. Leading businesses are making these pledges in good faith but they are only voluntary and not yet universal.

In addition, practical measures being adopted by businesses to reduce emissions are still in the early stages and there needs to be an acceleration of actions to reach even our 2030 emissions reduction target.

To beat the ticking carbon budget clock, the pace of business progress needs a policy nudge. A suite of policy and regulation is still needed to accelerate business efforts and ensure broad coverage of emissions reductions across the entire economy.

The real contribution these pledges can make is to show the Australian government what can be achieved. The ramping up of business action on climate change should give the government confidence it can achieve more emissions reductions and set policies that aim considerably higher than the current targets.

The Conversation

Anna Skarbek, CEO at ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Ocean acidification: the forgotten piece of the carbon puzzle

Ellycia Harrould-Kolieb, University of Melbourne

Ocean acidification – the rise in ocean acidity due to the increased absorption of carbon dioxide (CO₂) – is often thought of as consequence of climate change. However, it is actually a separate, albeit very closely-related problem.

Ocean acidification is often referred to as “the other CO₂ problem” because, like climate change, it is primarily a result of the increased emissions of this gas. Despite their common driver, though, the processes and impacts of ocean acidification and climate change are distinct. It should not be assumed that policies intended to deal with the climate will simultaneously benefit the oceans.

The current emphasis of global climate policies on a warming target is a case in point.

A narrow focus on temperature stabilisation, for example, opens the door for policy interventions that prioritise the reduction of greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide. This is because non-CO₂ greenhouse gases — like methane and nitrous oxide, which can arise from agricultural and industrial processes — typically have a higher global warming potential and might even be less costly than CO₂ to reduce.

In addition, several geoengineering schemes have been proposed to reduce the impacts of a warming climate. Yet such schemes often do nothing to address emissions, and may even exacerbate carbon absorption in the oceans.

Reducing CO₂ — the only long-term solution

The most important step in addressing both climate change and ocean acidification, and ultimately the only way to avoid the most serious impacts of both, is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.

Long-term policy targets designed to guide emission reductions to a level that would avoid unacceptable consequences should consider both ocean acidification and climate change. Interestingly, it is in doing this that we see the solutions to these two global issues converge.

Countries have largely agreed that there is a desire to limit global temperature increases to no more than 2℃ above pre-industrial temperatures. This is a desire that requires us to drastically reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report found that for a 66% chance of remaining below 2℃ we can emit less than 1,010 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, or about one-third of our carbon budget.

In fact, such a target is in line with the most ambitious atmospheric carbon concentration scenario (called RCP2.6) used by the IPCC to model climate impacts.

A recent study in the journal Science conducted by J.P. Gattuso and colleagues modelled this same IPCC scenario and found that exceeding it would have wide-ranging consequences for marine life, marine ecosystems, and the goods and services they supply to humanity. However, as with climate change, many of the worst impacts of rising acidity could be avoided by following or remaining below this trajectory.

The most critical feature of this scenario with regards to ocean acidification is a reduction of carbon dioxide to net zero emissions by no later than 2070.

But, as Gattuso’s team importantly note, even achieving zero emissions within this timeframe would not prevent substantial ocean acidification. Coral reefs and shellfish populations will remain especially vulnerable.

This is true for climate change impacts as well. And it is the reason that many, particularly those living in developing and low-lying island states, wish to see the long-term goal for global temperature rise reduced to 1.5℃.

In effect, this means that reducing net carbon dioxide emissions to zero must happen even sooner than 2070. Ocean acidification, therefore, provides the impetus for additional urgency in agreeing to stringent timeframes for reducing CO₂ emissions.

Net zero emissions on the table at Paris?

We are fast approaching the next round of climate talks on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris. If we are to see any meaningful global climate pact emerge, ocean acidification must sit firmly alongside climate change on the negotiation table.

Given the double threat that ocean acidification and climate change poses to some of the most vital goods and services underpinning human welfare, including food security, economic development, and the viability of ecosystems, it is crucial that world leaders set sharp emission reductions square in their sights.

Promisingly, up for negotiation in Paris is language that could see parties agreeing to net zero emissions. This would indeed be a very welcome, and ultimately necessary, development.

The Conversation

Ellycia Harrould-Kolieb, PhD Candidate, School of Geography & Australian-German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.