The street and the boardroom are closer than they have ever been on climate

Action, action, action is the only antidote to “blah, blah, blah” – and forward-looking business leaders are stepping up right now

The "action zone" at Cop26 in Glasgow (Photo: Karwai Tang/UK Government)


The Glasgow Climate Pact and recent pledges have kept 1.5C alive, just. But to get 1.5C out of intensive care we need all these pledges and national plans to be delivered without delay.

People took to the streets calling for urgent, just and decisive climate action. Activists were right to call out those governments and businesses using distant net zero pledges to delay meaningful action today. It is true that many of the current informal and unregulated offset schemes are insufficient and can lead to greenwashing.

However, more than 1,000 companies are setting 1.5C-aligned science-based targets to reduce their emissions. The Net Zero Standard launched at Cop26 enables companies to align their climate action with limiting global warming to 1.5C. The business leaders I met with in Glasgow had come with credible evidence of their progress as well as a sincere and urgent desire to push governments to go further and faster.

While some saw Cop26 as a story of opposing voices inside and outside, I believe that the street and the boardroom are closer than they have ever been. Their message to world leaders is loud. Action, action, action is the only antidote for the blah, blah, blah.

The Glasgow Pact has given businesses a clear direction of travel. They came with concrete policy asks, which at least in part, have been delivered. These include a commitment by nations to increase their emissions targets to pursue the 1.5C target and rules for a robust and transparent global carbon market. 195 countries now agree that coal has an expiry date, even if that date is not yet agreed. Investments in fossil fuels are now far riskier because the market expects them to become stranded assets in the foreseeable future.

Action in this decade towards halving emission by 2030 offers our best chance of keeping 1.5C within reach. Many forward-looking business leaders are stepping up to deliver right now.

It must be accountable action. Scrutiny and transparency will ultimately benefit everyone, including business, because it will build trust with employees, customers, investors and communities. The International Sustainability Standards Board will provide a much-needed global standard for the consistent disclosure of sustainability information. Reporting will make it easier for investment to flow to 1.5C aligned businesses and drive competition. It will also make it harder for those businesses that do not take climate seriously. There will be no longer any excuse nor anywhere to hide.

A robust carbon market established under Article 6 will offset the risk of greenwashing. While not perfect, the Glasgow Climate Pact offers real progress towards a global carbon market that brings rigor and scrutiny to trading offsets, reducing the risk of double-counting. The sooner the system is up and running under the new rules, the sooner it can build trust among companies and the public that trading carbon credits is a credible and effective mechanism for driving down emissions. 

Despite corporate progress, business cannot turn the tide on global heating alone. We need clear policies and regulation from governments. And business needs to consistently advocate for ambitious climate policies. The ambition loop between companies and governments is clear, by working together, they can each accelerate climate action, unlocking business leadership and policy ambition.

Similarly, the calls for action from wider society are shaping corporate and policy decisions creating the societal changes that make it easier for consumers to cut their own carbon footprint. Our task in the coming years is to turbocharge these virtuous circles and accelerate momentum to the pace needed to avert climate breakdown.  

The Glasgow Climate Pact represents real progress within the current geopolitics and consensus nature of UN climate negotiations. Forward-looking businesses will continue to raise their own ambition while calling for more government action such as delivering climate finance to developing countries, transparency and creating a just transition. Now activists, forward looking businesses and leading nations must embrace the next phase of our journey towards net-zero: Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration.

Maria Mendiluce is CEO of the We Mean Business Coalition.

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