Climate change threatens the basic necessities of human life all around the world - access to water, food production, health, land, biodiversity, peace and stability. Climate change is an unprecedented issue, unique to our civilisation, and action is needed to prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system.
Anthropogenic climate change is mostly caused by the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has identified six key GHGs which contribute to climate change. While carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the most common GHGs, all GHG emissions have impacts of varying intensities and timescales on climate change. Some GHGs trap heat in the atmosphere and the oceans for over a hundred years, while some do so for much shorter periods of times but with far greater magnitude. Methane (CH4), from leaked gas or livestock for example is such a gas.
Feedback loops, which could accelerate climate change, add further urgency for action in order to prevent pushing the climate system beyond irreversible tipping points. Scientists fear that, as temperatures increase, huge stores of GHGs could be released into the atmosphere accelerating further warming.
- Scope 1 emissions refer to direct emissions from sources owned or controlled by an organisation. Examples include: company owned vehicles, chemical reactions and boilers.
- Scope 2 emissions refer to indirect emissions from electricity, heat or steam purchased by an organisation. Examples include: electricity purchased by the factories or the offices of an organisation.
- Scope 3 emissions refer to all other indirect emission which are a consequence of business’ activities but are not directly controlled or owned by the business. These can be further classified as upstream or downstream:
- ‘Upstream emissions’ are linked to the supply chain of a business. Examples include: extraction and production of purchased materials, outsourced waste treatment and other modes of employee travel.
- ‘Downstream emissions’ are linked to life of the products or services. Examples include: investments, energy use associated with products and the end of life-treatment of products.
Some businesses are not only reducing their GHG emissions to limit further climate change, they are also working to adapt to changes that have already occurred and will continue to occur. ‘Climate-smart agriculture’ is one example, where businesses may work with farmers and policymakers to strengthen irrigation systems so that the agricultural produce or livestock are better protected against droughts or floods. Such adaptions seen across various sectors and industries suggest that integrating climate change thinking may help identify associated opportunities and risks.
The UK Government states that the costs of not acting on climate change far outweigh the costs of early action. A key step almost any business can take is to monitor and evaluate its energy use, which for many businesses is the leading source of GHGs. The modern economy is primarily based on fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil), and reducing the use of these ever more costly and limited resources through energy efficiency measures can only benefit a business. Examples of energy efficiency and further steps may include:
- Setting annual targets for reductions in energy use
- Improving insulation in buildings used by the business
- Implementing smart meters for comprehensive energy monitoring
- Implementing energy efficient lighting
- Sourcing renewable energy
- Producing renewable energy on-site, with solar panels for example
- Promoting behaviour changes within the organisation
- Appointing someone in the business for energy management
Further, some businesses may be subject to mandatory emissions reporting (e.g. in the UK all quoted companies are required to measure and report GHGs), and some businesses may report their emissions strategies voluntarily through initiatives like the CDP. The CDP (initially the Carbon Disclosure Project) invites businesses to consider their impact on climate change through its detailed questionnaire. Beyond energy efficiency, additional issues on which it invites disclosure include:
- Ensuring responsibility for climate change impacts and risks are delegated at a high level within the organisation
- Ensuring there are appropriate incentives for managing climate change issues
- Engaging in activities that have a positive influence on public policy for climate change mitigation and adaptation
- Funding research and innovation, internally or externally, on climate change issues
- Establishing absolute and/or intensity emissions and regularly evaluate and report on progress
- Assessing how third parties may directly or indirectly reduce GHG emissions through the use of the organisation’s goods and services
- Engaging with various of the elements of the organisations value chain on GHG emissions and climate change strategies
A comprehensive strategy to mitigate impacts on climate change forms a key part of an organisation’s ability to manage their environmental impact. There is no set way to mitigate an organisation’s impact on climate change and many innovative solutions continue to emerge from individual businesses, industry groups and others. Nonetheless, a company does not have to be expert or innovative to follow good practice. A company that considers sound environmental stewardship and reducing its footprint across its operations as good business practice will likely be able to cite numerous steps it takes – for example cutting down on its use of raw materials, reducing its use of transportation and considering end of life treatment – to mitigate its impact on climate change. By disclosing such steps, benefits include learning from each other, inspiring innovation and improving the business impact on the environment.