Are we ‘fighting a wildfire with a garden hose’?

By Carmen Ene, CEO of 3stepIT and BNP Paribas 3 Step IT - November 14, 2022

Global leaders are facing a stark challenge in Sharm el-Sheikh this month.  


Decades of inaction on climate change preceded the event – pledges made and abandoned, protocols signed and ignored, so a serious change of track is needed to ensure COP27 is not yet another talking shop. 


The tendency for words over action will be hard to overcome, but to coin a phrase from the UN’s Climate Change Chief, Simon Stiell, “fighting an exponential emergency with incremental progress is like fighting a wildfire with a garden hose.”  


The inadequacy of our approach has come into sharp focus over recent months as environmental greenwashing has hit the headlines. Today, looking green and talking green no longer counts as being green. 


Consumers demand more transparency about the climate impact of the products and services they choose. Shareholders want reassurance that they are investing in companies whose operations are future fit – environmental and financial sustainability now being one and the same. Regulators are effectively making greenwashing a crime in the EU, with the most demanding set of ESG regulations to date set to become law between 2024 and 2026. 


Business leaders are under more pressure than ever to be accountable for their environmental claims. COP27 and its delegates will not be exempt from this new level of scrutiny either, during the event and in the future. 


The COP opportunity 


In the weeks preceding the event, sponsorship by Coca-Cola and Egypt’s record on the environment and human rights raised questions about the legitimacy of the conference and what it can achieve.  


However, now it’s not the time to belittle the potential of COP27, but rather a time to demand that the conference’s official slogan - ‘Together for Implementation’ – is turned into a reality. 


With the world’s eyes on Egypt, over 200 nations that have signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, plus businesses, regulators, charities, investors, and the media, are gathering to implement climate policy that will tangibly lower global temperatures and set us on a new, more sustainable path.  


The power of this ambition and the collective minds of the world’s leading thinkers and decision-makers cannot be underestimated and shouldn’t be ignored as a vehicle for systemic change. There is hope. 


System change, not climate change 


Bold action is needed now. This is not the time to fiddle around the margins, slightly updating the old ways of doing things. 


Simon Stiell says that to date, “we’ve been unwilling to bear the full cost. We’ve been unwilling to accept what ‘systemic transformation’ really means.”  


He is right: systemic change means revolution – an entirely new approach commensurate with the crisis we’re facing.  


So what are delegates focusing on at COP27 in order to try to move the needle and get the world a bit closer to delivering on “the landmark Paris Agreement, for people and the planet”? Egypt’s presidency has set out four focus areas – mitigation, adaption, finance, and collaboration. 


Mitigation and adaptation are essential preventative measures – aiming to reduce emissions to limit global warming below two degrees and enhance our resilience against climate change events. 


Finance and collaboration are closely linked, and they are both future-facing. We need a greater – in fact, the greatest – degree of cooperation to raise climate finance and accelerate climate action. By collaborating and partnering with the right allies, businesses can invest confidently, align their operations to regulatory plans, access new green growth opportunities and avoid the allure of greenwashing. 


Our challenge isn’t insurmountable, but no one can solve it alone.  


The circular example 


The circular economy is an excellent example of how finance and collaboration can create systemic change. 


Cutting global emissions is a crucial UN climate goal. Moving to renewables can address 55% of GHG emissions, but the remaining 45% is caused by making and using products and materials. 


By adopting a circular economy – tipped by analysts to be the only economy within the decade – we minimise waste and pollution from our production and keep resources in circulation for longer, reducing emissions across the value chain. 


To create a truly circular economy, we must all play a role in transitioning away from the take-make-waste model that has got us to what the IPCC calls "rapid and intensifying" climate change. Governments must create the framework for change with appropriate infrastructure, policies, incentives, and penalties. Investors must direct capital into the circular economy, funding climate solutions and withdrawing from polluting stocks. 


Businesses must be ready to make the leap, as they have the power to drive real change on the ground by embedding the principles of the circular economy into operating models to ensure they are both financially and environmentally resilient. 


Change anything, change everything. 


True system change will require a transition to new ways of working, new ways of considering assets, and new ways of demonstrating the impact of activities on the planet. 


This may be systemic change, but it is possible, and savvy organisations are already making the switch. With the EU publicly committed to achieving a circular economy by 2050, and a $4.5 trillion economic opportunity at our fingertips, those still talking and failing to act will find themselves in a dwindling minority. Prioritising repair and reuse and finding value in what we today consider waste is the only way forward. 


It’s down to us all, not just those meeting in Egypt this month, to make the right choice and to make it now. If we all point our garden hoses at the wildfire, we can extinguish it together.

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