UN Global Compact calls on companies to set their science-based targets with a new level of ambition

Senior executives of business and finance, civil society, the United Nations and Government met at the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP 24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) this week to identify key steps to accelerate low-carbon and resilient development.

The High-Level Meeting of Caring for Climate was convened by the UN Global Compact together with UN Environment and UNFCCC to ramp up corporate action towards the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in September 2019 and to identify the concrete actions and partnerships business can undertake to recalibrate toward a 1.5-degree Celsius pathway — and, ultimately, toward a zero-carbon future.

In her welcoming remarks, Lise Kingo, CEO & Executive Director of the UN Global Compact, encouraged leaders to identify concrete actions, partnerships and initiatives that the private sector can undertake to mobilize greater ambition and stronger leadership to address climate change.

“At the UN Global Compact, we are calling on all companies — across sectors and regions — to set their science-based target with a new level of ambition — one that aligns with 1.5-degrees Celsius pathways,” she said. “As leaders are here in Katowice to build the rulebook for the implementation of the Paris Agreement, we need to stress the unique opportunity we have to engage in a positive reinforcement between bold business action and ambitious Government policy.”

“Public corporate commitments on climate action help demonstrate the economic case for ambitious climate policy, and these actions give Governments and investors the support they need. This connection we have called the ‘ambition loop.’ Governments have a clear opportunity to build on the growing signs of business leadership to enact stronger, more ambitious policies,” Kingo said.

Ahead of the 2019 Climate Summit, the UN Global Compact will also launch a new partnership with the London-based think-thank Volans to mobilize leading companies to commit to building a new carbon economy, where businesses are sequestering more carbon through their operations than they emit.

“As businesses around the world are rising to the challenge of building a low-carbon economy and accelerating action on climate change, we can no longer call isolated corporate climate action leadership. It remains vital that all climate action and corporate operations are interlinked with the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and promote human rights,” Kingo said.

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Summit, Ambassador Luis Alfonso De Alba, spoke about the urgency of raising ambitions and aligning them with the latest climate science. He encouraged company executives to use the upcoming Summit as a platform for their ambitious plans.

“According to the latest report — particularly the 1.5 report of the IPCC — we need to do much better and we need to do it much faster,” he said, inviting all stakeholders to bring to the Summit innovative and transformational proposals on ways to put the Paris Agreement back on track.

Supporting the new paper, The Ambition Loop — How Business and Government Can Advance Policies that Fast Track Zero-Carbon Economic Growth, Sweden’s Climate Change Ambassador Lars Ronnås shared an example of how clear policy recommendations from multi-stakeholder initiatives, such Fossil Free Sweden — reinforced by bold corporate public commitments and Government policy, in this case the Swedish Climate Act — resulted in a successful ambition loop.

“Public and private partnership is about building these loops — express what you want to see and say no to what you no longer tolerate, and connect your own commitments to what you expect others to do,” he said.

Calling for urgent action and partnerships

In his opening remarks, Ovais Sarmad, Deputy Executive Secretary of UNFCCC, highlighted the urgent need for action. “We are here to operationalize the Paris Agreement — if we don’t by the end of this week, we will be in serious trouble,” he warned.

“No one organization — the UN or others — can deal with this challenge alone. We need partnerships and that’s where the UN Global Compact can bring very meaningful, very useful partners around the table,” he said, referring to the more than 9,500 companies participating in the UN Global Compact.

Andrew Steer, CEO of the World Resources Institute, also spoke about the importance of collaboration: “The only way one can tolerate and encourage the disruptive change that we need is in partnership. The only way we can get to where we need to get to by 2050 is if there’s a compact between Governments and their citizens, a compact between Governments and their corporations, and a compact between corporations and the citizens of the country that they operate in.”

Representing the private sector, John Kornerup Bang, Chief Advisor on Climate Change at Maersk, shared his company’s work towards a zero-carbon future: “We need to decarbonize fully by 2050 and we pledged to do that. For the first time, we have set a goal that we know that we cannot do alone. We cannot do it without technology providers, we cannot do it without innovation in the supply chain, we cannot do that without a significant step-up on the regulatory side.”

Changing mindsets towards a circular economy

Jeremy Oppenheim, Founder and Managing Partner at SYSTEMIQ, spoke about the important role played by investors in driving action. “If we do not get the owners of the capital — which is people in the end — to drive to a different set of allocations through their mandates to asset managers, and from asset managers to companies, we will not crack this problem,” he said.

He also spoke about the core findings of the Energy Transitions Commission’s new report, which showed that the 100 per cent decarbonization of heavy-emitting industrial sectors is possible by 2050 in the developed economies and by 2060 in developing economies, without any offsetting.

He emphasized, however, that two important drivers are needed: access to affordable renewable energy and engagement of people to shift mindsets for the support of a circular economy. “If you want to change what consumers do, we have to change the messages they receive — relentlessly across the world — from leading companies in every sector. ”

Lisa Manley, Senior Director for Sustainability Engagement and Partnerships at Mars, Inc, emphasized the importance of addressing climate change at the scale that science shows is required.

“We have to really get after not just what we’re doing with our direct operations with renewable energy, but we’ve got to begin to tackle the emissions that come from agriculture, and particularly the emissions that come from deforestation,” she said. “We need to have more companies focused on science-based targets. The 500 companies that today are focused on science-based targets to guide their reduction of emissions is a positive movement, but it’s far too small.”

Engaging in the policy dialogue

In his closing remarks, Michał Kurtyka, COP 24 President and Polish Secretary of State in the Ministry of Environment, emphasized the importance that Government action on climate change is backed by the industry.

Speaking to the businesses in the room, he said, “The principles to which world leaders agreed three years ago in Paris must be put into life. This is about our collective action and this is why I’m so happy to be here with you, because you show that it is possible, it is feasible, it might be profitable — it is profitable — and it is increasingly also, from your perspective, an opportunity rather than a cost.”

Reflecting on the Caring for Climate initiative’s report Guide for Responsible Policy Engagement in Climate Policy launched at COP 19 in Poland in 2013, Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, urged the private sector to care for the climate by engaging with Governments and business associations to take part in the dialogue about the policies needed to achieve corporate climate targets. “The gap right now is the engagement — not only in what you are doing in your companies, but actually in the political debate in your countries. I think it’s time to be uncomfortable and we all have to go to the edge of our comfort zone.”

Satya Tripathi, Assistant Secretary-General of UN Environment — that just launched its annual Emissions Gap Report — spoke about the crucial issues that the world is currently working to address. “We are here because there is a purpose to what we do as human beings. And the purpose cannot be transactional: you do something for me, I do something for you. We have dwelled on that for too long,” he said. “Can we please dwell on value-based relationships? Which is that I value something — I will do everything in my power to make it happen. Each one of us becoming champions in our own space and not thinking of the other — that they make a move, then I make a move,” he said.

Bertrand Camus, Group Deputy CEO for Africa, the Middle East, India, Asia and the Pacific at SUEZ, spoke about how his company as a global provider of water and waste management solutions is experiencing the impacts of climate change everyday and everywhere. “We are now moving from a water and waste management professional company to a leader in circular and low-carbon economy. Because we truly believe this being one of the solutions to move to the 1.5-degree pathway and also to work both on mitigation and adaptation.”

Leading up to the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in September 2019, the Caring for Climate initiative and the UN Global Compact Action Platform on Pathways to Low-Carbon & Resilient Development  will serve as an incubator to help the companies participating in the UN Global Compact to provide ambitious and meaningful contributions to the Summit.

“There is still time to secure the world that we all want. We are at a critical juncture, where every day climate change is moving faster than we are, and where every half degree makes a world of difference,” Lise Kingo said. “Although the window is closing fast, there is still time to change course and move toward a 1.5-degree Celsius pathway. We have the technology, the tools, and most importantly we know the actions that are necessary to close this emissions gap.”

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