It is no secret that the world is not meeting its climate goals in a timely manner. In the Global Carbon Budget projections released at COP27 in November, there was no significant sign of decrease. Carbon levels are still at record highs.
The world needs to scale back, warns Pierre Friedlingstein, Lead of the Global Carbon Project, at a December 2022 GreenBiz webinar: “The longer we wait to descend the slope, the harder it will be to stop this trend.”
Fortunately, the answers may not be as intimidating as the problem sounds.
Jamie Beck Alexander, Director of Drawdown Labs, suggests that the solutions we need to make significant strides are already at our fingertips.
Alexander founded Drawdown Labs in 2020 to push the boundaries of Climate Change possibilities into the private sector. Her organization uses science to figure out how to best scale climate solutions with some of the world’s biggest actors such as business.
In the GreenBiz webinar, she encourages companies to use their clout, financing, and influence to overcome barriers to drawdown and put on the breaks with what her organization calls the “Emergency Breaks” of climate change science.
These are measures that are the fastest, largest, and lowest-cost climate solutions that can be deployed now, that don’t wait for new infrastructure to be built, for new technology to be developed or for nature to accumulate carbon in trees and soils.
Such solutions include stopping deforestation, fugitive emissions of methane from fossil fuels, and black-carbon emissions from dirty cookstoves, biomass burning, and other sources.
“These are the areas where our money and energy need to be focused,” Alexander says. Stopping these will get the world big returns fast.
But prioritizing is the name of the game.
For example, she says that methane leakages need to be fixed right now. Reducing methane and black carbon emissions help in the short term as they are potent, short-lived climate pollutants. While CO2 removal is important, it isn’t a low hanging fruit.
Avoid rather than exchange
When asked if companies should focus less on carbon offsets and more on avoidance, there came a resounding “Yes!” from the webinar speakers.
Alexander says that avoiding emissions is better than investing in nature-based solutions. While nature-based ideas are useful, these take longer to implement.
“Also, we need to take advantage of what is already here,” she says. It is better not to cut a tree down than to plant a new one that takes years before it can harvest equivalent amounts of CO2.
“If you reduce emissions, you are going in the right direction and there is no going back,” says Friedlingstein.
Don’t set unrealistic goals
Net zero is a planetary goal, says Alexander. Companies have adopted this goal to their business model, but is may not be realistic. Not every company can reach this, nor should they expect to.
The effort shouldn’t be “a random throw everything at the wall and see what works,” she continues. “Instead companies should use science to contextualize the solutions.”
Barriers to overcome
Unfortunately, there are still barriers that need to be overcome. These include:
- Policy and regulatory barriers
- Capital and financing barriers
- Business practices
- Behavior and cultural barriers
Alexander says that businesses can help address these by asking questions such as: are their business models helping the problem or causing it? They can ask if climate is at the center of their practices and plans, or somewhere out on the periphery.
Companies can shift capital to new processes or technology that reduces CO2 emissions.
“Workers, investors, businesses all need to be rowing in the same direction, but we are not moving quickly enough,” she says.
Specific company practices
The speakers had several practical business practices that can also be implemented. Such as:
- Define clear interim targets — When doing this, better to be realistic and not to be too ambitious. No need to say that one will be net zero by next year but have no way to achieve it. Better to set realistic, smaller range goals, and achieve them one at a time.
- Have building transition plans — This allows one to measure year to year and month to month exactly what one needs to do to get to net zero and how well the company is doing it.
- Pay attention to spectral emissions and the business’ portion of this.
Adding a climate scientist to the company board would not be a bad idea either. This could help guide company practices and keep them on track. Businesses should also include younger employees who have a vested interested in the future and are more likely to look for change.
Ultimately, everyone needs to get on board, says Friedlingstein. Government, financial people, consumers, businesses — everyone needs to buy into this paradigm.