After a disruptive but incredibly busy year in 2021, Interim Managing Director of Atos’ Net Zero Transformation Practice and CEO of EcoAct Northern Europe, Stuart Lemmon looks at what is on the climate agenda for 2022 and how he hopes to see organisations turn net-zero pledges into climate action.
Happy New Year! 2021 was challenging in many ways, from extreme weather and supply chain issues to new Covid-19 variants and restrictions. Despite this, it was an important year for climate. I have worked in the sector for over 25 years and for the first time I didn’t have to argue the case for climate change and why we urgently need to act. Instead, climate change was at the top of the agenda, climate science was in mainstream news and organisations across all sectors were coming to us to find out what they can do to calculate and reduce their emissions. As we begin this new year, here are a few things that I think will shape the climate agenda next and what I hope to see for 2022.
Climate science in 2022
As an environmental scientist, it has been exciting to see climate science finally taken seriously and a growing willingness from organisations across all sectors to make climate commitments. The publication of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s report last August shocked the world with its stark warning of ‘code red’ for humanity. It helped solidify a significant cultural shift I witnessed at COP26, where we were no longer debating if climate change was real but instead looking to climate science for solutions.
Two more reports are due in early 2022 with further details on the impacts of climate change and the mitigation required. The first report from Working Group II expected in February will detail the effects of climate change on human and natural systems, focusing on their vulnerabilities, ability and limitations to adapt to climate change. The second report due in March from Working Group III will concentrate on global and national efforts to reduce the devastating impacts of climate change through innovation and solutions across agriculture, forestry and land use, buildings, transport and industry.
2022 is set to be a big year for climate science, with the IPCC also due to release its Synthesis Report ahead of COP27. The urgency of climate change has not gone away, we have a limited time to act. My hope is climate science can lead the way and help governments and businesses avoid the worst impacts of climate change by roadmapping a science-based path to net zero by 2050.
Turning pledges into climate action in 2022
2021 was undoubtedly the year of climate pledges, with large numbers of countries and organisations setting net-zero targets. 67 regions, 1049 cities, 5,235 companies, 1039 educational institutions, 441 financial institutions and over 3,000 hospitals joined the UN’s Race to Zero and committed to halving emissions by 2030 and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. This year it is crucial that this intent is turned into action.
One of the most significant outcomes of COP26 was The Glasgow Climate Pact. This final decision adopted by the 196 Parties to the Paris Agreement reaffirmed the goal of limiting the increase in global temperature to well below 2°C (and if possible, under 1.5°C) above pre-industrial levels. However, the Pact recognised that current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are far from on track to reach this goal. The 1.5°C goal requires greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to be reduced by 45% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels, yet current NDCs amount to a 14% increase of GHG. The COP Presidency therefore called on Parties to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their NDCs as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022. Thereafter, Parties will have to update their NDCs every five years in line with the decision adopted on “common timeframes”.
As the UK’s COP presidency comes to an end this autumn, I hope the UK and other countries will raise their ambition to get their net-zero strategies on track, and that things not achieved in Glasgow are agreed to at COP27 in November.
Disappointingly, last year EcoAct’s research The Climate Reporting Performance of the FTSE 100, Euro STOXX 50 and DOW 30 found that just 19% of the FTSE 100 had long-term emissions reduction targets to meet net-zero goals and only 3% had a long-term emissions reduction target aligned with limiting global warming to 1.5°C with most having no provision for sequestration. There is a clear gap between commitments and real impacts, which reinforces the importance of setting credible, science-based targets to guide and accelerate the necessary transformations.
For this next year, I hope to see more businesses with strategies that align with the new Net-Zero Standard. It requires deep decarbonisation of 90-95% of emissions by 2050, which is not easy. However, compliance with this standard not only ensures that climate commitments are technically correct and in-line with the latest climate science, but also that they can be communicated transparently and intelligibly to stakeholders through a new common framework. Net-zero in 2022 will hopefully evolve from lofty pledge to something that is concrete, aligned to climate science and really paves the way forward.
EcoAct in 2022
Despite disruptions of ongoing homeworking, an office move and migrating to new operating systems, 2021 was a very good year for EcoAct. Our team of fantastic EcoActors grew to almost 200 and through their dedication and hard work, we delivered an excellent level of service to our growing list of clients. We also launched new offices in Germany and Canada, opening us up to exciting new geographies. I look forward to expanding our now global team even more in 2022 and building on the successes of 2021.
Last year EcoAct was also formally integrated with our parent company, Atos. This now gives us the opportunity to really grow our existing services and respond to increasing demand as more and more companies implement net-zero targets. We are now also able to partner with our Atos colleagues to develop and deliver digital products and services that enable companies to accelerate their decarbonisation and achieve their climate ambitions.
So despite uncertain times, I feel largely positive about the coming year. As an environmental scientist I understand the catastrophic risk that climate change poses to the world but as a natural optimist, I look at the growth in public awareness around climate, changing business priorities and development of new technology and digital solutions as huge steps forward toward our global goal of net-zero. Here’s to a year of climate action!