Recent disasters have dominated the news headlines, but it’s not only the California wildfires and recent hurricanes along the Gulf Coast that show climate change has arrived with a vengeance. Australia has faced rampant brush fires; the United Kingdom has struggled with floods; and Cyclone Amphan wreaked havoc across much of Bangladesh and its neighbor, India.
Citizens across the globe get it. Many are already living it. A recent GlobeScan survey revealed that, across many nations, people are taking the threats of climate change seriously. Researchers found that in countries as different as Mexico and South Korea, people almost unanimously believe climate change is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” threat — and they agree at a rate of at least 96 percent. Across the board, the figure hovers around 90 percent. Even in the U.S., more than 80 percent of residents told GlobeScan researchers they believe these risks are serious, an increase of one-third since 2014.
But despite the evidence that the impacts of climate change are already with us, much of the business community still isn’t taking the threats of climate change seriously – notwithstanding all the Climate Week announcements and invitations you may have seen in your inbox over the past several days.
True, there are pledges to become a “regenerative” company by 2040 or 2050; other companies have pledged to become net-zero by 2040, which would be 10 years ahead of the globally agreed-upon 2050 goals set during the 2015 Paris climate talks. Further, there is no shortage of companies making announcements that come across as frivolous when put into the context of Climate Week. Such pledges range from promises to turn plastic bottles into seating at resorts or, in the case of major energy companies, investments in carbon capture technology.
The problem is that we may not be able to wait that long.
The COVID-19 pandemic adds to the sense of urgency. As unfounded fears have festered over reusable shopping bags and containers, threats to waste management systems are just the beginning of the risks society faces. As 99 percent of single-use plastics are manufactured from fossil fuels, the “pandemic of plastics” has its own impact on global emissions.
The roster of companies that have pledged to align with the circular economy movement is a long one. But as many corporations say they are working with the Ellen McArthur Foundation or the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, they are also undertaking a copious amount of work behind the scenes to oppose and block legislation that would otherwise help take on the single-use plastics crisis.
Time is running out for companies to take the immediate, bold action we need to address climate change and help countries meet their climate goals. Many individuals are already saying climate change has had an impact on their lives. The same GlobeScan report reveals a high percentage of people who share such sentiment — notably in nations with lengthy coastlines, such as Mexico, Turkey, Vietnam, Italy and Thailand. They don’t have time to wait until 2040. We need to see more action now.
It's not only the sustainerati that look at all these goals and commitments with weary eyes.
“Of course, it’s one thing to set a goal, and another to actually achieve it,” writes Politico’s Catherine Boudreau as she summarized the flood of announcements made so far during Climate Week.
Oddly enough, some companies that are largely responsible for this lurch into a climate crisis, as in energy firms, appear to be moving the fastest. For example, Royal Dutch Shell recently announced it’s looking into cutting as much as 40 percent of its oil and gas production so it can revamp its business model and focus more on renewables. One analyst has even suggested that, should the energy sector move toward “killing itself slowly,” the result could be that they would become income trusts that still operate at a handsome profit for investors, only without the massive capital outlays needed to discover and reap new oil and gas reserves.
If companies like Shell can pivot quickly, laggard companies in different sectors can do the same. Hence the narrative shouldn’t focus on the companies that can make the boldest long-term goals; this really should be about who can adopt to this new reality the fastest.
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Image credit: Marcin Jozwiak/Pixabay
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.