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Steven Clarke headshot

Moving Beyond Targets: The Time is Now for Climate Transition Action Plans

Climate transition action plans have emerged as a leading framework for companies to reduce climate-related risks and maximize opportunities.
By Steven Clarke
wind farm at sunset - taking action on climate change

As the material business risks from climate change become increasingly clear, more than a third of the world’s largest 2,000 companies have set goals to reach net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner. Many companies have gone even further, setting emission reduction targets that are in line with what the latest climate science says are needed to meet the goals of the Paris Accords and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. They are also disclosing information about the impacts of their business on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, water quality and scarcity, and nature. 
This is tremendous progress and highlights that companies see opportunities to be had in tackling these risks. But awash with targets and goals, investors and other stakeholders still have one core question: What meaningful and measurable actions are companies taking today, and in the near-term, to meet these targets? 
Climate transition action plans have emerged as a leading framework for companies to identify, plan, and implement strategies that reduce climate-related risks and maximize opportunities.  These actions should be specific, time-bound and, if possible, quantified to detail the emissions reductions that companies expect to achieve. 
While targets and disclosures are both deeply important, too often companies lack a forward-looking strategy that defines how they will work to achieve these targets in the next three to five years — both within and beyond their operations.  
In fact, organizations that analyze and track climate action — such as the Science-Based Target initiative, Net Zero Tracker, Transition Pathway Initiative and CDP — have found that an alarming number of companies have yet to develop these plans. For instance, out of nearly 19,000 companies that annually report their climate impacts to CDP, only 13 percent have disclosed a sufficient number of indicators to be considered a credible plan — and only 0.40 percent of companies met all 21 of CDP’s key indicators. 
Every company knows that delivering on a goal takes a plan. Just as companies set goals and develop detailed plans for driving sales, investing in new markets or recruiting talent, they also need a detailed climate action transition plan for delivering on their goals for slashing emissions and addressing their exposure to climate risk. 
And the pressure on companies to deliver these plans is ramping up. In 2022, Ceres counted just nine investors asking companies they held to publish transition plans via shareholder resolutions. In 2023, that number jumped to 61. 
Addressing the Ceres Global climate conference in March 2023, Mary Schapiro, vice chair for global public policy at Bloomberg and vice chair of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, said: "If 2021 was the year of mainstreaming net-zero commitments and 2022 was the year of target-setting and developing the frameworks to operationalize these commitments, we are now calling 2023 the year of transition plans." 
The momentum is building as investors are already implementing transition action plans to mitigate the risks climate poses to their portfolios. To help companies create and implement these plans to achieve their emissions reductions targets, Ceres’ Ambition 2030 initiative and our partners have developed action-oriented guidance and tools. At a high level, we outline four components for every transition plan:  

  1. Actions a company will take to reduce its Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, covering its entire supply and value chains, in line with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 
  2. Actions to identify, manage, and address climate risks and opportunities and incorporate these considerations into core business strategy and governance. 
  3. Actions to advocate for public policies that support and enable the achievement of corporate climate targets and economy-wide emissions reductions.
  4. Actions to consider and support workforces, suppliers, customers, impacted communities and other stakeholders in the transition to a net-zero-emissions economy. 

The time for action is now, and we encourage all companies to follow these guidelines as they develop the plans to make their targets a reality. 

Image credit: Karsten Würth/Unsplash

Steven Clarke headshot

Steven Clarke is the Senior Director of Climate and Energy and leads the work of the Ambition 2030 initiative at Ceres. 

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