In 2020, the Irish government committed to lowering its greenhouse gas emissions by 7% per year to achieve Net Zero by 2050. To put that into perspective: the fastest rate of national emissions reduction achieved by an advanced economy was about 3% per year in the UK over the past decade. Ireland aims to more than double that.
The country's business pioneers are trying to get ahead of anticipated regulation – but also respond to growing consumer demand for sustainable products and services. Irish companies are starting to step up their climate ambition, with Kerry Group, AIB and Smurfitt Kappa among the headline names committing to Net Zero targets. 2020 also saw 58 of Ireland's leading businesses sign-up to Business in the Community Ireland's (BITCI) Low Carbon Pledge.
These developments are encouraging – but they are not enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change on our communities and commerce, and the fragile ecosystems that maintain both.
Here is why all Irish businesses should be working towards Net Zero, and for those that have pledged their commitment, what they can do to speed up progress.
Globally, an avalanche of organisations have set Net Zero targets, with such commitments doubling in less than a year according to the UNFCCC. The COVID-19 pandemic has further propelled Net Zero and climate action to the top of the corporate agenda, as companies recognize their vulnerability to global events and make efforts to build resilience across value chains. As corporate boards take stock, revamp their strategies, and respond to investor expectations post-pandemic, now is the time to align COVID-19 recovery plans with pathways to Net Zero.
Organisations that pursue robust climate action will also win the hearts and minds of their employees and customers. In 2020, Deloitte reported that 42% of consumers are already choosing brands based on their environmental impact, and, in a recent study by Gartner, of more than 30,000 people worldwide, 87% of employees said businesses should take a public position on societal issues relevant to their business.
To be successful, the journey to Net Zero must be driven from the inside out – permeating every function and level. Working towards Net Zero is also an opportunity to unify multiple corporate sustainability efforts under one single initiative.
From a technical point of view, a Net Zero target can be achieved by an organisation that has successfully reduced emissions across its value chain in line with a 1.5ºC mitigation pathway, and neutralised any unavoidable emissions by financing carbon removals. As they work towards Net Zero, organisations should also invest in critical levers at their disposal today in order to mitigate climate change and support those who are hardest hit by the impacts of it.
South Pole's report reveals that COVID-19 has been a catalyst for innovative thinking and building resilience to disruptive events
A Net Zero strategy with clear milestones is imperative if you are to match ambition with quantifiable climate action. However, a recent South Pole report revealed that Net Zero planning doesn't always match the stated ambition – leaving firms open to accusations of greenwashing. Almost half (48%) of organisations with a Net Zero commitment have not set tangible interim milestones such as science-based targets. To inoculate themselves and their organisations from suspicion of greenwash, Irish business leaders must ensure that targets and milestones are woven into the fabric of their business strategy so that current and future leaders can be held accountable.
As companies work towards a longer-term Net Zero strategy, they can become climate neutral in the interim by financing climate action projects that avoid and remove emissions. An organisation can be said to have reached climate neutrality when they account for their carbon footprint and establish a clear reduction strategy, before compensating for their residual emissions by investing in climate action projects through the purchase of carbon credits.
Compensating for emissions is critical in catalysing faster climate action as organisations work towards Net Zero. Why? It helps put an internal price on carbon, it channels funding to eligible and deserving projects, it allows companies to do something (rather than nothing) on the path to Net Zero. Most importantly, supporting certified climate action projects develops and supports solutions that dramatically reduce emissions, today.
Purchasing carbon credits also enables companies to actively support other important goals, such as critical climate change adaptation and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For example, supporting forest conservation projects is key to protecting our declining ecosystems and avoiding further biodiversity loss. South Pole is a leading project developer that provides businesses with the opportunity to tailor-make a portfolio of climate action projects to match your businesses climate goals. From tapping into Indonesia's vast geothermal potential and producing clean electricity, to fighting desertification in Mali, our carbon projects are certified by the International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance (ICROA) and showcase the tangible benefits of climate action to your stakeholders.
South Pole's five-phase framework towards climate leadership provides the structure and tools needed to help corporates achieve their sustainability goals.