Challenge 2030 – let’s make the climate crisis history as we build back better from COVID-19

Post author image. Gudrun Cartwright

Gudrun Cartwright, Environment Director, Business in the Community (BITC) on the challenge we face to build back greener after the global pandemic

As more and more businesses open their doors and we start to return to normal, we have a unique opportunity to ensure that what we build for the future is better than what we had before the pandemic hit. And building back greener is a critical component of that challenge, with multiple calls for action from businesses, communities and NGOs asking governments to put tackling the climate crisis at the heart of recovery plans. 

Research conducted by Route2 for BITC, launched today, shows a clear imperative for business to accelerate action towards net zero carbon. By forecasting UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by sector and region out to 2050 and applying an established social cost of carbon figure of $80¹ a tonne, the research shows that UK business could reduce the cost of its GHG emissions to society by £1.1tn if net zero is achieved by 2030, rather than 2050.  And with a new analysis that Route2 is developing to account for damage to human and ecological health, the costs are likely to be three times higher than the current ‘social cost’, which is based solely on GDP reductions.   

The social cost of carbon has been referred to as ‘the most important number you have never heard of². This is because it underpins government policy. However, pricing of carbon is currently hugely undervalued compared with the real social cost. For example, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme current values carbon at $30 a tonne³. So, it would be wise to expect a significant policy response in the next five years⁴. Indeed, we are already seeing pressure from central banks to make investors and insurers manage the risks climate change will bring, leading to ever more demanding questions of business⁵. The reasons to act now are growing all the time. 

This is why BITC is launching a new campaign, as part of our initiative to create a blueprint for responsible business that will enable us all to build back better a better ‘normal’ as we recover from COVID-19. Our campaign, Challenge 2030: make the climate crisis history, is calling on all businesses to act now to understand the risks and opportunities of climate change for their whole value chain. We want businesses to increase: 

  • The speed with which they will achieve net zero carbon targets aligned to the Paris agreement 
  • The scale of ambition in their climate action plans to cut carbon and prepare for the impacts of climate change 
  • The scope of their influence by collaborating with employees, suppliers, customers and sectors to unlock barriers to action 

On our current trajectory, we will use the entire carbon budget available under the Paris agreement by 2030⁶. The International Energy Agency, usually a conservative commentator, has suggested we have just six months to start making good decisions, or we won’t successfully cut carbon in time. We are not naiive enough to think that we can completely reverse the impacts of climate change that are already locked in, but we know that anything we can do to buck the trend can help to stop climate breakdown becoming an existential threat to civilisation itself⁸.  

Clear and decisive business leadership will be vital to give governments the confidence to make the bold policy decisions needed to make the transition.

Gudrun Catrwright, Environment Director, Business in the Community

So, this is the moment to act. A reset of everything we believed was possible or necessary is underway and we need to decide what to do next. Will the leaders of today choose to rebuild their businesses and our economy in ways that create new opportunities for people losing their jobs as a result of COVID-19 by cutting carbon, building a circular economy and restoring the health of nature? Or will we desparately try to recreate what went before, even if it was not working well for many individuals, communities and our home planet and spend decades firefighting as we respond to the future impacts of climate breakdown?  

Clear and decisive business leadership will be vital to give governments the confidence to make the bold policy decisions needed to make the transition. It is no longer enough to focus on our day jobs. We must all take the challenge personally and find our own ways to contribute. Use this moment to pause, reflect and plot a path to a better future. For we are all in this together, on a tiny blue marble, orbiting a small star, in an enormous universe. And most of us in leadership roles today will be here to witness the outcomes of our actions. Older, hopefully wiser, but definitely needing support from the young people who will be too busy coping with our chaotic legacy and too angry that we didn’t stop it happening when we could, to help us.  

Now is the time to step up to the challenge. To see it as an opportunity to build great businesses that are part of the solution to the climate crisis, creating good jobs for people and helping communities build their resilience to future shocks. It is about choice. We can turn the ship if we put our minds to it. As the old saying goes – if not us who? If not now, when?  

JOIN US IN CHALLENGE 2030. Together we can make amazing happen.

References

¹ Pindyck, R. (2019) The social cost of carbon revisited.  Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.  (94) pages 140-160.   
² Carbon Brief (2017).  The Social Cost of Carbon. Available here.
³ EMBER (2020) Carbon Price Viewer. Available here
⁴ UNPRI (2019) The Inevitable Policy Response.  Preparing financial markets for climate related policy/regulatory risks. Available here
⁵ Bank of England (no date) Climate Change. Available here.
⁶ PwC (2020) The journey to net zero: Engaging business towards a net zero economy. Available here.
⁷ International Energy Agency (IEA), (2020).  Sustainable Recovery.  Available here.
⁸ Lenton, T. et al (2019)  Climate Tipping Points – to risky to bet against.  Nature. V575 pp 592-595.  Availablehere.