The much-anticipated COP 28 is underway, bringing together thousands of heads of state, politicians, business leaders, scientists and campaigner to address the climate crisis and drive forward the changes and adaptations needed to meet Net Zero emissions by 2050.
The hopes and aspirations for COP 28 are high. There are expectations for a global agreement to phase out fossil fuels - despite the conference itself being held in a petrostate and there being a record high number of coal, oil and gas industry representatives at the conference. And whilst the pace of change feels slow, all parties need to be part of the solution and willing to contribute to make the transition required to meet these goals and avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change.
But is it all just hot air? Or are the very public debates and commitments a useful method for holding countries publicly accountable?
The parallels with business ESG Strategies
For me there are great parallels between these discussions and a business’s ESG Strategies, which include:
Both require public commitments and targets
Both are scrutinized by stakeholders and its counterparts / competition
Both require regular review and evolution of the targets and commitments to ensure that the country / company continue to be ambitious, driving for change and creating a positive impact.
But what happens when these commitments, by a country at a COP or a company through their ESG strategy, are empty commitments aimed at improving image?
The issue with targets
Targets and commitments can sometimes cause issues. They can often feel underwhelming, or in some cases borderline fictional. More often than not the timeline for progress can feel extremely long. But the reality is these things do take time and require systemic change. And change does take time.
It was only 8 years ago at COP21 that the there was a collective agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions. In those last 8 years the UK has seen 5 prime ministers and 8 environment secretaries, and a constant shift or lag in both environmental and social policy (not to mention Brexit). Recent research by Friends of the Earth estimates that based on current policy it is estimated that the UKs greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 would only be 59% lower than 1990, compared to its 68% reduction target.
Examples of greenwashing and social washing continue to emerge. From companies left field Net Zero targets with no clear demonstration of how they will achieve that pathway or them committing to creating the most diverse and inclusive workforces, whilst continuing to promote discriminatory employment practices. And I don’t think its lost on anyone that COP28 is being held in a country that is committed to increasing its oil production capacity. The disconnect is hard to ignore.
Instigating real ESG change
At BayNel we work with a broad range of companies, big and small. Some are committed to delivering on a true ESG strategy that addresses the material ESG issues to their business and stakeholders.
This involves embracing the opportunities and risks the ESG issues present. These businesses evolve their business products, services and practice to ones that can serve a low carbon economy and meet the expectations and needs of all its stakeholders.
But we still encounter companies who see this as simply paying lip service to their stakeholders on these issues and there is limited commitment to real change.
The rationale on this varies. From CEOs who think climate change is a myth. To those whose company is doing well, and they do not want to evolve their practices to proactively manage the opportunities and risks and that ES&G issues present to their business. Wedded to the mentality that “if it aint broke don’t try to fix it”.
The reality might be that these businesses are not directly impacted by the plethora of ESG regulations and disclosure requirements out there. It could be that they aren’t being significantly impacted enough by these issues that it is forcing them to rethink the way they do business and integrate ESG into their practices- or they simply don’t want to see these impacts.
But what we feel is certain- the way we operate, the wat we do business, and the expectation of stakeholders has changed irrevocably and will undoubtedly evolve again post COP28- so where do you want to be in the pack- do you want to be the fossil or the fuel for change?
For further reading on making real change, take a look at our ESG Strategy Services page.