Time’s Up: Urgent Climate Adaptation and Business Transformation Key to Secure a Livable Planet

Photo credit: Dikaseva on Unsplash

March 4, 2022
  • Giulio Berruti portrait

    Giulio Berruti

    Director, Climate Change, BSR

  • Eileen Gallagher portrait

    Eileen Gallagher

    Director, Climate Change, BSR

  • Erin Leitheiser portrait

    Erin Leitheiser

    Associate Director, Nature, BSR

IPCC’s recently released Sixth Assessment Report about climate impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability shines a light on the threat climate change poses to human well-being and planetary health. It makes plain an indisputable fact: our efforts to reduce emissions have been unsuccessful, as has been our action to adapt to climate impacts.

According to the report:

“Increased heatwaves, droughts and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals. These weather extremes are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage. They have exposed millions of people to acute food and water insecurity on a global scale.”

Many of these impacts will be irreversible, but we can substantially reduce them if we succeed in limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. If we don’t, the risks posed to humans and natural ecosystems will be exponentially worse.

A key point in the report is that climate, ecosystems, and people are interconnected and interdependent, both with regards to impacts—which makes risks increasingly complex to understand and manage—but also to solutions. As stated by Inger Andersen, Executive Director at the UN Environment Programme:

“Nature can be our savior, but only if we save it first.”

Climate change is and will increasingly impact ecosystems, e.g., accelerating the current rates of extinction, something that is projected to be 10-fold more extreme in a 3°C world than a 1.5°C one. Yet, nature has an incredible ability to store carbon and clean pollution while also providing sustenance for life, making biodiversity and ecosystem health paramount to adapt to the impacts of climate change and deliver a 1.5°C future. To do this in practice, scientists have concluded that we must conserve 30-50 percent of Earth’s land, freshwater, and ocean areas.

The interconnection of climate, nature, and human beings reminds us that climate and nature solutions will not be effective if not designed to be fair and inclusive to people. Around 40 percent of the world’s population already lives in areas highly vulnerable to climate change, and it is often in these areas that socioeconomic issues interact and compound, deepening and perpetuating poverty and inequities, food and water insecurity, health issues and the overall ability to live a safe and self-determined life. Communities already experiencing the ills of global inequities—who tend to be the least responsible for global warming—will face disproportionate impacts from climate change.

It is imperative that we accelerate transformational rather than incremental climate adaptation to address more pressing risks. It’s equally important that we invest our resources to support effective, feasible adaptation solutions that consider potential effects on both nature and people. We should implement them in conformity to the principles of justice to ensure that burdens and benefits are distributed equitably, and that solutions are co-created with affected communities, so they reflect the perspectives of local cultures and needs. Multistakeholder collaboration for learning, capacity building, and scenario analysis can support this.

By embracing climate-resilient development to safeguard their own businesses, companies can help to catalyze sustainable and just development by scaling up greenhouse gas mitigation while simultaneously driving adaptation. The IPCC directly calls on the private sector to help address these grand challenges, leading to several key take-aways for business:

Embrace 1.5°C as the minimum threshold of ambition

Set a 1.5°C-aligned net-zero commitment and take quick and transformational action to achieve net-zero value chains.

Assess and adapt

Climate risks are unavoidable, and businesses need to take action to ensure long-term resilience. Business leaders should identify those interconnected risks, their effects on nature (and vice versa), and fully understand climate injustices and inequities across the value chain, seeking to listen to how employees, suppliers, customers, consumers, and the community at large are affected.

Conduct climate scenario analysis as an effective way to grapple with climate impacts on a company and its supply chain, and adjust strategy accordingly.

Implement climate and nature solutions that work for both people and planet

Incorporate and deploy capital to nature-based solutions into your strategy. Such solutions can have positive benefits on both the climate and communities.

Deploy capital to finance community resilience across supply chains, to ensure climate action does not perpetuate climate injustices.

Apply justice, equity, and inclusion as key principles of your climate strategy and ensure the principles are upheld in policies, programs, and investments.

Urgent action is needed. As António Guterres, UN Secretary General, starkly stated: “Delay means death.”

Business has both an obligation, and an opportunity, to play a key role in driving adaptation and delivering climate-resilient development. BSR is here to help you to navigate the complexity of interconnected climate, nature, and people issues, and take decisive action, now.

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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