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IPCC distils complex climate science into simple imperatives for action

Jonathan Shopley | 13 August 2021 |
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The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report consolidates extensive scientific data and analysis to put the state of the climate into sharp focus. It isn’t comforting reading. In this third article in the Climate Complexity Made Simple series, Jonathan Shopley offers a view on how to turn this around: “time to stop tinkering and go big on deep transformation—we have the tools we need”.

The BasicsWhat the IPCC report says

A unique feature of the IPCC Assessment Reports is that each draws on the work of thousands of climate scientists. Each comes with a “Summary for Policymakers” agreed line by line by the lead authors and government representatives. Here are the standout headlines summarizing the 3,000+ page first installment of the Sixth Assessment report:

  • It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land.
  • Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.
  • Limiting human-induced global warming to a specific level requires limiting cumulative CO2 emissions, reaching at least net zero CO2 emissions, along with strong reductions in other greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Strong, rapid and sustained reductions in methane emissions would also limit the warming effect resulting from declining aerosol pollution and would improve air quality.

For those who absorb information better through visualisation, take a look at these charts developed by The World Resources Institute (WRI) to interpret the IPCC’s conclusions….

The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report shows that the world will probably reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming within just the next two decades. In the scenarios studied by the IPCC, there is a more than 50% chance that the 1.5°C target is reached or crossed between 2021 and 2040—with a central estimate of the early 2030s.


The Complexities

WRI also has been keeping an eye on countries’ national reduction targets—their NDCs—tracking the latest updates to check whether individually and in aggregate they respond to the urgency of the “decline global GHG emissions from the 2020s onwards” imperative set out by the IPCC. They don’t. And the current state of play is that there is a lot of work to do to stand-up the Paris Agreement. The pressure is piling up on COP26 to:

  • Make NDCs meaningful—aligned with IPCC guidance.
  • Establish effective transparency mechanisms for NDC reporting to track our progress.

Actually, progress on these two issues will largely determine the success of COP26.

So, what should business do?

Most business people are not surprised by the IPCC findings—they’re relieved that there is greater clarity around the size and shape of the challenge. The report is simply a detailed explanation of what we really already know—this is a critical decade, and the effectiveness of our response will play out throughout this century and beyond. The actions we take today will have an outsized impact on the climate, health and wellbeing, and biodiversity.

And those actions need to mirror the two priorities for COP26:

  • Time to stop tinkering with incrementalism and go big on deep transformation—a few front runner sectors are already delivering plausible plans to transform—aircraft and automotive manufacturers, cement, steel and some leading power companies amongst them.
  • Make sure those plans are being assessed for impact, and that progress is accurately measured and reported. The most effective way to build trust and integrity through this period of rapid and uneven change is to embrace radical transparency.

For business, it requires a rational and adaptive response to implement immediate abatement and removals of GHGs. There is no silver bullet, and a portfolio of solutions paves a path to creating effective programmes that break through the uncertainty, reduce risk, and increase impact. Our recent white paper, Carbon Innovation for Business Impact, offers a roadmap for companies seeking to apply the breadth of carbon finance solutions to their climate and biodiversity strategies to deliver measured climate impact within and beyond their operations and supply chains.

Above all, now is the time to crowd-in all the solutions we have available and try to ensure the harsh truths of this report lead us into greater action and ambition, not despair.

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