“The IPCC report is a code red for humanity.” António Guterres, UN Secretary General
Scientists are screaming from the rooftops. On Monday, the Intergovernmental panel on climate change published its sixth assessment report. Another stark wake up call for humanity, released during a surreal and apocalyptic summer of extreme weather events across the globe. It’s the clearest and most comprehensive summary yet of the physical science of climate change. Climate breakdown is here. How far are we willing to let it go?
This week's 52INSIGHTS explores youth's take on the report, and what it means for brands...
KEY MESSAGES & TAKEAWAYS
The climate story in brief, is: ‘It’s warming. It’s us. We’re sure. It’s bad. We can fix it.’ We know this. Still, it’s difficult to overstate the significance of this IPCC report; this is THE report, 8 years of work, with hundreds of the world’s leading climate scientists synthesising 14,000 pieces of scientific literature and building on more than three decades of previous research. In short, their message to the world is: we’re running out of time, fast. Two of our key takeaways from the report? The danger of irreversibility and the crucial reminder that every tonne of carbon counts.
Danger of irreversibility = urgency + agency
The urgency of the language used in this latest report helps to relay the group’s starkest warning yet - it’s do or die. The headline of the press release reads “Climate change widespread, rapid, and intensifying.” A large part of what we have done to the planet already cannot be undone (at least for thousands of years) - the task at hand is to not make it any worse.
“There’s urgency, but there’s also still agency. We can make a difference… We’ve reached a crescendo where the scientific community is literally yelling from the rooftops. The question is, how bad are we willing to let it get?” Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Earth System Science Centre at Penn State University
“Danger of irreversibility. This is the big message from Monday’s new IPCC report. We’re reaching irreversible tipping points that will lead to drastic changes in ecosystems with devastating effects for all life on this planet… We know we have already broken, or are about to break, many of the planetary boundaries that keep us safe.” Christina Figueres, Global Optimism
Rapid Net Zero Transition: Every tonne of carbon counts
Our time frames have gotten extremely short and every fraction of a degree counts. According to lead authors of the report, this is likely to be the last one from the IPCC while there is still time to stay below 1.5C of warming (the target set out by previous reports and agreements to avoid catastrophic runaway climate change). The bad news is that we’ve warmed 1.1C already and, in almost all emission scenarios, are on track to reach the target of 1.5C by the early 2030s. The closer we stay to 1.5C by cutting emissions, the more desirable the climate we will be living in. There is still so much worth saving and we have the potential right now to determine how much we save.
“ ‘Every tonne of C02 emissions adds to global warming.’ This statement from the IPCC report should be emblazoned into the minds and hearts of every business leader on the planet. It should be recited at the beginning of every meeting and should guide every decision no exceptions.” Jamie Alexander, Project Drawdown
WHAT YOUTH HAD TO SAY
The 2018 IPCC special report (on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C) helped spark the global youth-led climate movement that radically changed the climate conversation. This new report is likely to spark growth in this movement and further galvanize activists. Here’s what some of young people fighting for climate justice around the world had to say on the release of the report this week:
“Despair is not an option... Grief, frustration, loss, rage, anger, and all other feelings - for sure... I don't know what will happen, but I refuse to accept the certainty of the future of what we have right now. I believe in better futures - if we do something about and for them and with each other...Revolution is what we need. The dismantling of structures, and re-organising and re-building and a revolution of hearts and minds and imagination of what could be possible...🌻” Josephine Becker
“The new IPCC report contains no real surprises. It confirms what we already know from thousands of previous studies and reports - that we are in an emergency... It doesn't tell us what to do. It is up to us to be brave and take decisions based on the scientific evidence provided in these reports. We can still avoid the worst consequences, but not if we continue like today, and not without treating the crisis like a crisis.” Greta Thunberg
“Today, the world's top scientists are warning that limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C may slip "beyond reach". Remember. 1.5C is not some meaningless number. Missing that target is a death sentence for millions of people across the world… I had a breakdown reading the last IPCC report. I cried and cried. But within six months, we [Extinction Rebellion] had shut down central London for a fortnight and forced the UK Parliament to declare a climate emergency. Turn your anger into action.” Sam Knights
“I know that we’re not supposed to give into climate doom. I know that every degree of warming matters, and that there is so much we can (and must) save. But there must be room left to grieve for what we have lost, and everything that we will lose over the next decade or so. Entire species, ecosystems, livelihoods, and cultures will be lost. And if we don’t grieve that or process it, we can’t effectively move forward together and identify some of the root causes of this crisis in the first place. Grief and hopelessness aren’t just dead-end emotions. Sometimes they can push us into action and bring us closer to our community.” Summer Dean
“It’s scary. But there’s no excuses now - there’s nowhere for anyone to hide.” Rónán Ó Dálaigh
From tears and despair to rage and hope, across social media emotionally-rich language was paired with empowered, action-oriented calls to action. Mass grieving is in process, but this widespread grief is quickly being channelled into creative, community and action-oriented responses.
BUSINESS IMPLICATIONS & WHAT COP26 COULD BRING
“It should provide a reset and baseline from which we come together...There should be a ‘before this report’ and ‘after this report’.” Tom Rivett-Carnac
There's no denying that gaps exist in the business world - commitment gaps and implementation gaps. Could the IPCC report be the tipping point for action that’s needed? Climate-minded leaders in the business world are sharing suggestions of how governments should get businesses to facilitate transformative action in the run up to COP26 this November. Some business leaders are advocating for the introduction of mandatory sustainability audits of businesses - for example, in the same way that any UK company with more than £10m turnover has to have an independent audit on their financials (which is shared with the authorities, and if the company is public then this is shared publicly), the same could be true for measuring a company's environmental impact.
Elsewhere, Christina Figueres (who led the Paris Agreement negotiations) wrote at Global Optimism about how most of us are not meeting the challenge of our time and highlights the mental boundaries holding us back from taking action:
“In light of the stark warning from the IPCC this week - and indeed from nature herself - the correct response must be to break through the mental boundaries that are now preventing us from doing what is necessary: exponentially scaling all solutions, and stopping emissions from entering our atmosphere… We are going to have to pull out, from deep within ourselves, extraordinary strength and endurance now. We have to go far beyond what we think we can achieve, at speed.”
Figueres articulates the serious need to tackle the mentality of marginal improvement over drastic change, pointing to the interconnection between our internal and external challenges. Policy and ethics intersect. This mental battle - elements of which are reflected in the emotionally-rich comments above by youth - is one that every business will have to overcome to respond to this moment adequately, with dramatic action.
“We don’t know how this movie is going to end, because we’re in the writers room right now. We’re making the decisions right now. Walking out is not an option. We don’t get to give up. This planet is the only home we’ll ever have. There’s no place like it. And home is always, always, always worth it.” Mary Annaïse Heglar
Action on climate has rapidly become an ethical and business imperative, but there are gaping holes in our collective response. This is the greatest threat and challenge we’ve ever faced. We know from the Covid-19 experience that daunting challenges can be met - and in emergencies like this, they need to be met without procrastination or life will suffer more greatly. In the face of this latest warning, it’s easy to see that the cost of doing nothing is inconceivable. When you look plainly at the options facing us today, climate action is the obvious ‘bargain’. We are the last generation to be able to save the future of our planet as the window for action shrinks by the day.
It’s important to recognise that climate impacts are relevant to every sector of our lives and businesses. We need to be talking about this more, and businesses everywhere, of all sizes and from all industries, need to take increasingly substantial action. You can be a leader that the world needs right now. You can begin today by reading the report and raising it at meetings (including board meetings). Ensuring your leaders and team are climate competent is also a crucial step.
In response to the IPCC report, B Corp Europe has published 7 ways businesses can take action to address the climate crisis. These are:
- Measure & manage your impact on people & planet
- Decarbonize your business operations as much and as quickly as possible
- Adopt stakeholder governance to ensure you're accountable to prioritizing the planet in your business decisions
- Use your platform to push governments towards enacting policy change that holds all companies accountable to the planet
- Center justice & people in your climate action, especially the most vulnerable and most affected by the climate crisis
- Partner with other businesses & organizations to take collective action for the planet
- Commit to using the SDGs as a blueprint to an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative future
If you’re struggling with the report personally, take inspiration from youth activists and turn your grief into joy through action and conversation.
HOW CAN WE HELP?
At Thinkhouse & The Youth Lab, our work related to this area has grown hugely over the last number of years. Within our agency’s three service areas of Fame, Transformation, Planet - sustainable practice touches on every part of a brand and businesses actions now and plans for the future.
If you would like to speak to the Thinkhouse Planet team about your brand's response to climate breakdown and communicating it creatively - or to explore sustainability and purpose oriented training programmes to accelerate action within your organisation - email firstname.lastname@example.org.