Show, don't tell: Business action on the climate crisis

Posted on November, 15 2022

COP27 is focused on turning promises into action - which is as important for businesses as governments. We need to show businesses how to do the right thing, and then hold them to account if they don’t do it, writes WWF Climate Business Network Lead Seán Mallon.
COP27 is in full swing and government officials from across the globe are gathered in Sharm El-Sheikh to work on our collective problem of climate change. Policy makers are meeting with their counterparts in other governments, as well as specialists from NGOs and with leaders from civil society and the corporate sector. There is a lot written about increasing government ambition to ensure we do not pass the 1.5°C threshold - and rightly so.

But one thing that gets overlooked consistently is the role of business. We have not yet figured out how to discuss business participation at events like this. When we talk about the corporate side of this story, we are often hit by outrage or cynicism. But that belittles the importance of businesses and the role they play in securing the future of our planet. After all, they are the source of the majority of emissions, and governments won't be able to reach their climate targets if businesses don't play ball. 

Obviously, that cynicism has been earned through previous bad actions and corporate double speak. Some businesses have slowed progress for years and muddied the waters with confusing terminologies and misleading targets. 

This time last year I was calling for clarity and real action. I wanted to go beyond talking about targets and target setting. Evidently, I was not the only one - UN Secretary General António Guterres held a press conference claiming "there is a deficit of credibility and a surplus of confusion over emissions reductions and net-zero targets, with different meanings and different metrics". 

Implementing the change we need

Thankfully then, the theme of this year's COP is implementation. The goal is to speak about the action taken and how people, countries and companies are actually enacting their climate strategies. This is a very welcome change to the constant naval-gazing and empty discussions around how hard things are. We are now in a decade of serious climate action. We have the rules, the metrics and the targets for a fully developed climate regime. Paris helped set the goal, Glasgow helped confirm the 'how'. And Sharm El-Sheikh could be the start of a new decade of implementation. 

We have already seen a panel of UN experts demand a crackdown on greenwashing of corporate net-zero pledges, saying policies should be ‘about cutting emissions, not corners’. If we are to achieve the potential of this new implementation focus, it is time for businesses to start sharing their homework and showing other companies how to achieve their climate goals.

We must show businesses how to achieve what was previously thought to be unachievable. WWF has a plan to do exactly that. 

How WWF is playing its part

This year we launched the Beyond Net-Zero leadership vision in an effort to scale up climate action and support companies in their emission reduction plans. We developed guidance on what ambitious, credible corporate climate leadership looks like. We have included actions, best practice and even went as far as to suggest the metrics companies can use. This is all in-line with the Science-Based Targets initiative and the highest level of ambition. 

Our goal was to share real-world examples and help people see the changes we are talking about in a tangible and emotive way. We want to take it from being words on a page to things businesses can see, touch and aspire to.  

In the coming months, we will be creating a series of case studies featuring prominent voices in business showing how they have made progress. We have also asked some of our partners to write about how they are making progress with their climate claims. 

The message is clear - the window for action to keep global heating below 1.5°C is closing fast. If we have any chance of keeping global heating below catastrophic levels, then every business must play its part.

We can't expect action without supporting it. We need to show businesses how to do the right thing, and then hold them to account if they don’t do it. 

Time will tell if the implementation COP lived up to its name. But with projects like Beyond Net-Zero we can certainly move the agenda forward and tackle the deficit of credibility Secretary General Guterres mentioned.

If you represent a business or know any good examples of companies taking action in this space, please share it with us and let's help get that message out.
Renewable energy production plant in Zaragoza, Spain.
© Pedro Sala / Getty Images