14 NOVEMBER 2022

Recession mustn’t blow climate ambitions off course

Written by Tor Burrows, Executive Director - Sustainability & Innovation, Grosvenor Property UK

While recessions are cyclical events, our actions during them can have long-term repercussions. And although we no longer argue (much) about whether there’s a climate emergency or when the tipping point is – short-term issues often push knotty long-term subjects off the public agenda.

The fundamental truth is the longer we leave climate action, the harder it is to avoid environmental breakdown. And in the face of short-term economic turmoil, we can’t put the long-term needs of the planet on the back burner. There’s a massive opportunity to come out of the downturn through a green recovery and just transition.

The arguments aren’t just emotional. Climate change is a major economic threat. Swiss Re Institute forecasts that the world stands to lose up to 18% of GDP from climate change if no action is taken. Meeting it is also an opportunity – the IMF argued that acting on climate change can boost growth by creating new economic opportunities as well as preventing climate related economic destruction.

And we know we aren’t doing enough. Research from the UK government’s own advisors, The Committee on Climate Change, shows that not one of the world’s climate leaders are on track to reach net zero by 2050.  

The window is closing. You get seven years to plan the Olympics and we have seven now meet the aims of the Paris Agreement.

So what can we do and what can we hope for from COP27? 

Global inter-governmental co-operation is the key to raising ambition and action. We can’t miss the opportunity COP27 presents to take decisive action and lessen the impact of climate change.

This will be hard. Vital political relationships are strained – most evidently between some of the biggest emitters – China and the US and Russia and the West. De-politicising climate action to agree ambition and deliver support to the Global South – who’ve benefited the least and are suffering the most – would be a spectacular, but much needed, diplomatic coup.

Closer to home we need well-drafted policy that supports investment and green jobs creation driving the UK to its 2050 net zero commitments as well as economic recovery. COVID stimulus packages (remember Build Back Better?) missed this opportunity and many were happy recently to see Investment Zones with relaxed environmental obligations pulled.

Businesses have a huge role to play – customers look to them to fill the leadership gap, boards look to executive teams to secure the long-term future, governments can work alongside them on innovative solutions.

At COP26, there was a noticeable rise in corporate attendance. Many made positive commitments which now need to be translated in to action. However, as things stand, only 90 companies worldwide have validated long-term Science-Based Targets – the international gold standard for reducing greenhouse gases in line with the Paris Agreement. 

More of us must act now – setting specific targets, especially when it comes to cutting emissions (including those we don’t directly control) and look for ways to innovate with supply chains and peers to meaningfully reduce our impact. 

In a recession, emissions can decline in line with economic activity. While many feel good about this, the reductions are isolated and short-term. It isn’t nearly enough to change the trajectory of global warming. 

With record-breaking temperatures baking cities, flooding in Pakistan and drought in the Horn of Africa, we’ve only had a taste what the climate change feels like. We need to plan a recovery that drives opportunity and the net zero agenda or short-term inaction will have irreversible and devastating long term consequences.

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