2020 was a year full of uncertainly. Not only did the pandemic affect our health and personal lives, it also fundamentally challenged our political, social, and economic norms too. Most notably though, the impact it had on how many of us think about tackling the big issues like climate change was huge. So, despite the challenges that the pandemic presented, 2020 was actually an encouraging year for those of us involved tackling the climate crisis.
Throughout last year we saw record levels in corporate ambition on climate change, as companies looked to ‘build back better’. We also witnessed corporates redoubling their efforts to tackle the climate crisis and saw many big brands sign up to the UN Race to Zero (in fact the figures doubled in 2020). In addition to this, the US made commitments to re-join the Paris Agreement, China made a commitment to Net Zero and the UK government pushed mandatory reporting of the business impacts of climate change by 2025. The UK also increased its ambition to cut emissions by 68% by 2030 based on 1990 levels.
It’s was certainly encouraging to see an ever-increasing number of corporates committing to achieve Net Zero status. However, whilst it is great to see firms working hard to measure their footprint and set reduction targets, many firms have admitted that they are waiting to get this right before they take action to reduce and compensate for their emissions. This is a concern. Whilst these plans and long-term targets are commendable, they do little for the environmental damage that is being done right now. There is a risk of action hiding behind plans.
Many in the industry will be aware that we need to more than halve emissions by 2030. This is equivalent to reducing the current emissions of China, India, the EU and the US combined. This is a mammoth task. Our advice therefore to clients over the last couple of years has been to consider driving actions simultaneously and at pace, and then modifying and adjusting moving forward. In simple terms, there really isn’t time to take things one step at a time anymore. We need to take action right away.
Saying that though, we are feeling very hopeful that this coming year will bring about increasing action. Not least because we are seeing more and more experienced professionals and organisations (such as WWF, SBTi, Oxford University, UN and the Taskforce) all agreeing with the rationale that we cannot reach Net Zero without including external emission reductions and offsetting emissions. This acknowledgement by experts across the board of the vital role of offsetting, is of course, just the beginning and we are likely to see this filter down more into policy too.
In late 2020, The Taskforce on scaling the voluntary carbon markets also launched its consultation paper. It aimed to identify ways to scale the voluntary carbon markets by at least 15 times, and potentially up to 160 times to help tackle climate change. It was certainly reassuring to see the experts agreeing with our long-held rationale and acknowledging that taking responsibility for today’s emissions through carbon offsetting is essential if we are to meet our Net Zero targets and prevent catastrophic climate change. As a project developer ourselves, we will be keen to see how the Taskforce can help to continue to unlock new demand and finance for project development as we move through 2021, helping us deliver more emission reductions from high quality projects. Our primary concern and focus will be continuing to scale our activity to finance, manage and develop robust and effective carbon reduction projects that both cut carbon and improve lives across the globe.
One of the key elements we have witnessed here at ClimateCare is that the conversation around offsetting has moved on from ‘should companies offset emissions?’ to ‘how should companies offset emissions?’. And as part of this new conversation, we are delighted to see a real push for the types of high quality, multiple impact projects that we have always advocated. We always aim to help companies offset their emissions through the highest quality projects that both cut carbon and improve lives. Take for instance our cookstoves projects, such as Burn or Gyapa. We helped lead author the Gold Standard methodology that allowed carbon finance for these projects, which not only cut carbon emissions, but create jobs for local people, reduce fuel poverty and tackle indoor air pollution.
As we move through 2021, we hope to see more ambitious plans and statements put into practice, as companies continue to turn their plans (and pledges) into action this year. Ultimately the environment for ambitious action has never been better, be it via the UK Government’s 10-point green plan or the recommendation to help scale the voluntary carbon markets and this certainly provides an exciting outlook for the months ahead.
This year will also bring about the postponed COP26, which provides a real opportunity to clarify how to implement the Paris agreement and bolster international carbon markets. The US re-joining the Paris agreement adds further weight to this and hopefully we can help forge true international cooperation moving forward too. These will of course be great accelerators for the industry overall, however as previously mentioned, the key here is for corporates to act now rather than waiting on policy decisions because time is of the essence.
The issue of climate change is now central to nearly all forward-thinking corporates and we are now witnessing one of most encouraging environments for them to act on this. Never before has it been so vital to ensure that the role of the voluntary carbon market delivers real additional emission reductions on the ground and at scale. This year has to be the year of increasing action, because – quite frankly – the climate will not respond to targets. Only action counts and this means cutting carbon through the highest quality projects and in doing so, delivering positive impacts for the people and the planet.