Rainforest near the eastern shore of the Malaysian peninsula
The optics surrounding COP26 have been far from stellar, starting with accusations that the events in Glasgow have been more exclusionary than inclusive. Plus, there’s the additional fuss made over the menus last week, not to mention all the emissions from private jet travel that are linked to the climate talks.
COP26 is marked by two steps forward, then two steps back
But considering how difficult it is to get scores of nations to agree on anything, there has been some progress. For example, Indigenous activists have finally been allowed to make themselves heard, and agreements on phasing out coal were reached last week.
One ongoing challenge, however, is all the talk about “net-zero” and the precise meaning of that term.
Whether national governments or large corporations discuss their paths toward reducing and even eliminating their emissions that contribute to climate change, there lies plenty of confusion over what net-zero entails.
Furthermore, at least one survey has revealed that while net-zero goals have become a common tactic to take on climate change, there is a lack of urgency. According to South Pole, while almost half of 200 large companies showed almost have a net-zero goal, just over 20 percent have set their target date to 2040 or later; 40 percent have not set at a date at all.
Is there an alternative to “net-zero?”
Talk about 2040 or even 2070 is not reassuring to experts who have concluded that climate change risks could accelerate during this decade. And even if many worldwide goals for 2030 are achieved, society is still likely on a collision course by mid-century due to the warming planet.
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Add the criticisms that many current net-zero pledges are either unclear or rely on unproven technologies, the reality is that many companies could face reputational problems sooner than they think, as it has become clear that climate change impacts are occurring at a faster pace than many of us had originally assumed.
To that end, the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has recently come up with its own net-zero framework, which among its strengths includes clearer goals – and an emphasis on short-term successes in slashing those emissions.
Companies should consider going a step further with their commitments and that this global climate action fight is not only about reducing emissions – together, however, the private and public sectors can work together to ensure another pandemic does not happen again.
We need to start talking about climate change and pandemics in the same breath
As the COVID-19 pandemic nudges closer to the two-year mark, here’s one thing most of us can agree on: Nobody wants to go through something like this ever again. Nevertheless, there's been little discussion on how society can prevent triggering another such crisis in the future.
The research has made it clear that a changing climate can trigger zoonotic diseases, especially in tropical regions – which include parts of the world that comprise an important part of the global supply chain. On that point, at least one coalition present at COP26 is determined to frame climate action as a means to prevent any future global pandemics.
“It is imperative that we realize that this pandemic is not something that is happening to us,” says the NGO Preventing Pandemics at the Source. “Rather, it is something we helped create by not properly considering the relationship between nature and our own health.”
Pushing the envelope long after COP26
Companies that align with SBTi are already demonstrating that, as the mantra goes, they believe in science. Taking this a step further, companies can show that a genuine commitment to climate action also proves they are focused on deploying their resources to ensure another pandemic of this level does not occur again. By making it absolutely clear that climate change and the pandemic are intertwined – and that they want to help find the answers – companies that take such a stand will emerge as important leaders doing their part to educate the public. At the same time, they also score the chance to build even stronger trust with their stakeholders.
There’s one caveat, of course – any net-zero or science-based target goals that can help mitigate the risk of another global pandemic must be transparent, measurable and prove that they are successful in the short term. After all, 2030 is not far away, but that year should not be one that is feared – if anything, the next nine years should be seen as an opportunity to further competition and show leadership on society’s most daunting challenge.
Image credit: Eutah Mizushima via Unsplash
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.