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A year in sustainability

 

2017 has been an interesting year for sustainable business, with commitments from government and businesses to help create a better future for people and planet. Here are our top five positive news moments.

Climate march, New YorkClimate march, New York.

(Some) Americans are still in

In the wake of President Trump’s announcement to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement back in June, a growing coalition of non-state actors in the United States have come together to demonstrate that they’re serious about climate action and meeting international climate goals. The ‘We Are Still In’ movement comprises local government, businesses, universities, faith groups and environmental activists, and represents a sizeable $6.2 trillion of the US economy.

In the absence of leadership from national government, it’s both reassuring and inspiring to see this group taking matters into their own hands. If the United States does leave the agreement, it will be the only country in the world outside of it, as Nicaragua and Syria both signed this year.

Cooling towers letting out steam and smoke at a coal-fired power station near Pontefract in Yorkshire, UK.Coal-fired power station near Pontefract in Yorkshire, UK.

Cleaning up our act

Burning fossil fuels for power, heat and transport is the biggest source of CO2 emissions globally, making it vital for us to transition to clean energy as quickly as possible.

The UK Government showed promising leadership with its commitment to phase out coal by 2025, and in April Britain was powered without coal for the first day since the Industrial Revolution. This was followed by the Powering Past Coal Alliance – a UK-Canada initiative launched at the COP23 climate talks in November to inspire collective global action on phasing out coal – which has already grown to over 50 countries, regions and businesses.

But more needs to be done to tackle climate change. Although the Clean Growth Strategy demonstrated government recognition of the importance of clean energy, it lacked detail on how we’d seize – and, indeed, fund – the opportunities presented by the clean energy sector.

The corporate sector seems ready to embrace change, including Tesco’s announcement that it would switch to 100% renewable energy by the end of the year in the UK, and by 2030 worldwide. 118 companies, including British Telecom, Landsec and Marks & Spencer, have signed up to the RE100 –  a global initiative uniting companies committed to 100% renewable energy. And if Britain’s biggest retailer, Tesco, can sign up to this, then it shows what’s possible in terms of big companies moving quickly to make the switch to renewable energy – challenging competitors to follow suit.

Cerrado Manifesto Cerrado Manifesto.

Saving the Cerrado

In September, over 50 NGOs from across Brazil and around the world released the Cerrado Manifesto – a call to companies and investors to take urgent action to protect the vulnerable Brazilian Cerrado, a savannah region rich in species just south of the Amazon.

Due to conversion for agriculture, the Cerrado has lost half its land area, and has suffered greater deforestation rates than the Amazon in the past decade. Not only is the region home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity – including unique species such as the giant anteater, maned wolf, and the jaguar – it’s also an important carbon store, essential for ensuring agricultural productivity in Brazil.

In response to the manifesto, 23 of the world’s largest food companies pledged to protect the Cerrado by making sure that their soy and beef supply chains do not contribute to deforestation or the conversion of natural vegetation in the region.

These global companies, which include Unilever, Walmart, Marks & Spencer, McDonald’s and Nando’s, have tremendous influence and buying power, and it was great to see them sending a strong market signal to the whole industry that the Cerrado must be protected. Going forward, we must see collaboration from all stakeholders, and the pledge of support for the manifesto is a good first step towards that.

© Shutterstock / Leung Cho Pan / WWFQuotation board displaying financial market data.

Full disclosure on climate risks

The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) released its final recommendations in June to help facilitate the mainstreaming of climate-related corporate reporting.

One hundred businesses, including major banks, insurers and investors, publicly committed to support these recommendations in June, showing that both businesses and institutional investors are starting to consider the risks posed by climate change more seriously.

The TCFD recommendations are welcome; particularly those asking companies to publish scenario analysis of climate related risks and opportunities alongside financial accounts. To be truly effective though, the TCFD’s voluntary recommendations need widespread adoption, and regulators need to get involved.

Plastic bag on coral in the Indo-Pacific OceanPlastic bag on coral in the Indo-Pacific Ocean.

War declared on ocean plastics

Over the past two months, The BBC’s landmark Blue Planet 2 series has been raising awareness of how plastic is suffocating our seas and marine wildlife. Who could forget the tragic sight of a wandering albatross chick whose stomach was completely contaminated with plastic?

With more plastic in our oceans than fish predicted by 2050 if we continue with business as usual, the United Nations have established a resolution to eliminate plastic in the sea. 193 countries, including the UK, have already signed.

Last month, the UK Government issued a ‘call for evidence’ on how a single-use plastic tax could help tackle this growing global issue as part of its budget announcement. The Scottish Government has announced plans to create a deposit return scheme for bottles and cans, with Wales set to follow suit. This action is to be welcomed, but must be ambitious in scope and scale for the UK Government to achieve its goal of leaving the environment in a better state.

2017 saw some promising commitments from the corporate sector, such as Sky promising to remove single-use plastics from its products, supply chains and operations by 2020. Co-op and Iceland have also expressed support for a bottle deposit scheme, showing that companies are becoming more aware of the need to integrate sustainability into their core business models not just to protect our planet, but to ensure their own long-term prosperity.

Want to know what 2018 has in store for business and the environment? Look out for our blog in the New Year.

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