OPINION: Why the UK’s emissions cuts are good for business

by Maria Mendiluce | We Mean Business
Friday, 4 December 2020 16:29 GMT

An exhaust pipe is seen as a car sitting in traffic approaches the Blackwall Tunnel, as Britain will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030, five years earlier than previously planned, in London, Britain, November 18, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

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The UK’s climate change target is a major step forward - now business needs a clear roadmap on how the targets will be achieved

By Maria Mendiluce

Maria Mendiluce is the CEO of the We Mean Business coalition.

The UK’s decision to increase climate ambition in line with the goals of the Paris climate Agreement is a major step forward and gives business a clear direction of travel when it’s needed most. 

This is exactly the right time for countries to show renewed commitment to the Agreement – five years after it was signed.

Importantly it will accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy – which is the best way to drive job creation and growth as we look to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Leading businesses, including power companies SSE and Orsted welcomed the UK announcement to increase its 2030 emissions reduction target to "at least 68%" compared to 1990 levels as it helps give them clarity and confidence to invest in the zero-carbon transition at speed and scale. 

Now, to maximize competitiveness and job creation, the UK, and indeed all countries, must provide business with a clear roadmap on how these targets will be achieved that incorporates finance and ensures a just transition.   

The impossible, has become possible since the Paris Agreement was signed.

Back in 2015, committing to net-zero emissions by 2050 seemed a stretch goal.

Now, it’s the level of ambition for countries and companies now competing in what is called the ‘race to zero’.   

In the run up to the Paris Agreement, we worked with a small group of  businesses on committing to science-based emission reduction targets and 100% renewable energy (RE100). 

These companies, which included IKEA, Enel, Coca-Cola Enterprises, General Mills, Kellogg and Procter & Gamble together with the coalition partners, had a major influence in ensuring an ambitious agreement was delivered. 

We shared a belief that working towards a zero-carbon economy was inevitable, irresistible and irreversible. 

The strong support for the zero-carbon transition from business, gave policymakers the confidence to go further and create the blueprint for climate action that we have today.  

In 2015, the idea of having company decarbonization plans aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement seemed like science-fiction, but now over 1,060 companies are committed to do just that via the Science Based Target initiative.

These companies are implementing climate solutions at scale, transforming industries, driving innovation and growth and providing good, long-term jobs.  

They come from across countries and sectors, like automakers Ford and AB Volvo, consumer goods giants Unilever and PepsiCo and cement companies LafargeHolcim and Dalmia. 

They are driving real transformations, like power companies AES Brasil and Denmark’s Orsted meeting 100% of their generation mix through renewables and automaker Volvo Cars switching to electric vehicles.     

Just as the health industry is now fast-tracking Covid-19 vaccine development, so all companies need to accelerate the deployment of key technologies like renewable energy, EVs and charging infrastructure.  

Other key developments must be brought to scale, like hydrogen, carbon capture, storage and use and alternative fuels for aviation. Bringing renewable energy to scale took over 20 years, but these technologies must be scaled up much more rapidly and companies have a vital role to play.     

The UK’s announcement comes in the wake of multiple net-zero 2050 commitments from some of the world’s biggest economies - Japan, South Korea and the EU - with China committing to achieve neutrality before 2060. 

Over 50% of global emissions are now in countries with goals to reach net-zero by mid-century. This would have seemed inconceivable in 2015.   

Most of these commitments have been finalised since the onset of Covid-19, as countries recognize that accelerating the zero-carbon transition is the best way to secure a long-term recovery and provide good jobs. 

This has been backed up by over 1,200 major global companies and by  analysis, showing that green recovery plans boost income, employment and GDP better than return-to-normal stimulus measures.  

Now companies and governments need to turn ambition into action to drive systemic, exponential change. We still have time, but only just. Companies need to align their ambition with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5ºC, take bold action and advocate for clear, bold climate policies to accelerate the transition to the zero-carbon future.  

The Paris Agreement has taught us that what the impossible can be achieved. Business needs all countries to follow the UK and set bold enough ambitions for the next five years and to rapidly implement clear action plans to achieve them.  

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