COP26 saw many business leaders committing to climate action and participating in the summit. But it also saw stark divides, with activists, indigenous voices and young people excluded from debate and decision-making. While there were a few glimmers of hope, the consensus from outside the corridors of power is that COP was disappointing. Some even branded it a “greenwash festival”.
Business in the Community (BITC) commissioned research with YouGov for COP26, surveying 8,000 people and 2,000 businesses. We found that people want businesses to act, but most either don’t think companies are doing enough, or don’t know what businesses are doing. People are worried about the impacts – extreme weather and damage to nature were top – and the implications for their children’s futures. They don’t see benefits or negative impacts being shared fairly, and don’t think businesses are doing enough to support communities. And they don’t trust that business will follow through on commitments they make. Almost half of business respondents said they don’t have a target to cut carbon, or a plan to get there, and don’t intend to produce one. The public’s lack of faith seems justified.
Post-COP, we face another year living with Covid-19, and the cost of living is rising. Energy prices are expected to rocket, pushing ever more people to choose between heating and eating. And this looks like it will happen alongside large, if not record-breaking, energy company profits. Oxfam’s latest report shows that the top 1% of the world’s population have sequestered more than the bottom 50% since 1995. The world’s ten richest men doubled their wealth during the pandemic, while 99% of people’s incomes dropped, leading to many people falling into poverty.
It’s easy to think these are separate issues. That there is not much business can do. Indeed, prevailing wisdom sees the role of business as purely to deliver solid financial returns, and the rest will look after itself. But that is no longer good enough. Businesses cannot thrive in a world where people cannot afford to buy their products and services. Where our planet can no longer provide the resources we need or process the wastes we produce. Where people are struggling, and communities disenfranchised.
Setting a robust net zero target, as close to 2030 as you can, is important, but, frankly, inadequate. Having a target and a plan is becoming a hygiene factor – for investors, government, B2B customers and the public. Going beyond that is critical. Which is why we are challenging and enabling companies to deliver on ‘just’. Business in the Community’s seven steps for climate action provide a guide. It is time to involve diverse stakeholders in designing what a net-zero, resilient future looks like. To ensure that people have the skills they need to thrive through the transition. To create opportunities and make them accessible. To see your business as part of complex, interconnected systems. To recognise that those of us with privilege and who make decisions that impact on others, also have a great responsibility for their impacts. To play our part in restoring the health of the whole.
This is the frontier of responsible business. Pushing beyond pressure to deliver short-term gain. Becoming resilience and regeneration focused, so that collectively, we can restore the social and planetary capital every business and every individual depends on. The time is definitely now. The responsibility is absolutely ours. There are no longer any excuses. Let’s get to work.
Climate Action Director,
Business in the Community