Avoiding climate pledges that aren’t much COP

“The six years since the Paris Climate Agreement have been the six hottest years on record.  Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink.”

This was the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s assessment one year ago, at COP26 in Glasgow, as world leaders committed to actions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

Did he think, speaking at this year’s COP27 in Egypt, that any progress had been made 12 months on?

“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator,” he said.

No penny needed for his thoughts there.

One year on from Glasgow, and the rhetoric everywhere is noticeably stronger – a reflection of the collective disappointment at slow action and the need to redouble efforts just to stay anywhere close to the required pathway.

One of climate campaigners’ major frustrations is that national climate targets are far too easy to miss. They are set 10, 15, 20 years into the future – likely someone else’s problem by then – and don’t filter down to a more granular level and force businesses, and even individuals, to reduce their impact.

In the UK, listed companies must report on their global energy use, and ‘large’ businesses must disclose their UK annual energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the current extent of the requirements placed on UK Plc. These regulations only touch a handful of companies, and even then there’s only a requirement to report on impact, not to reduce it.

The fact is, of course, that many more companies are taking positive steps over the environment than are required to. A growing number of companies are seeking environmental accreditations that demand high standards over reporting, target setting, and action. We’re one of those companies. We’re on a journey, we’re not there yet, but we have identified where we need to make changes, and have set out a plan for doing so.

As a comms agency, we truly believe in the power of PR to both reflect and influence positive action. It naturally follows that we think transparency and authenticity is essential when it comes to communicating a company’s approach to sustainability. We encourage our clients to think the same way. Our advice to companies looking to improve their sustainability and communicate successes, is:

  • Be transparent – nobody is perfect, and acknowledging areas that need addressing is the first step to taking action.
  • Use experts – work with independent environmental consultancies to help you gain an accurate picture of your carbon output, enabling you to take the right action and communicate authentically.
  • Set clear, achievable targets – aim to reduce your environmental impact in key areas, ensuring that targets are ambitious yet achievable. Have targets externally verified.
  • Hold yourself accountable to targets – publish your targets, communicate them with your customers and stakeholders, and pledge to report against them each year.
  • Create a robust action plan – identify how you will meet your targets, and explain the policies or behaviour change that will be needed. Tell people about your plans.
  • Don’t make false or exaggerated claims – credibility and openness is essential, without it your reputation is rightly at risk and you lose the ability to influence.

With COP27 now at an end, there is a real opportunity to maintain momentum, keep the debate going, and focus on change. Here’s hoping that by COP28, the UN and the rest of the world’s outlook is a little more optimistic. Only real, meaningful action can make that happen.