The biggest polluters have the most to offer on climate change

  • 24 March 2022 (5 min read)

Climate Group’s Helen Clarkson says that sectors such as transport, industry and the built environment are the biggest potential contributors to the net-zero transition

Helen Clarkson is on a mission to get companies, sectors and governments to take action on climate change now. While an increasing number of corporations are setting 2050 goals for achieving net-zero emissions, the head of the Climate Group argues that reaching those targets will only come about by actions taken today.

“This is the climate decade,” she says. “We need urgent action every day because you cannot wait until 2030 or 2040 to make a plan for 2050.”

Through her work at the Climate Group, which focuses on sectors such as transport, energy, the built environment and industry, Clarkson believes that the biggest and fastest reductions in global carbon emissions will come from areas that have traditionally proved the biggest polluters.

EV100, a Climate-Group coalition of companies committed to electrifying their fleets of vehicles, has already signed up around 90 companies that, together, run more than 400,000 cars and vans. That critical mass, argues Clarkson, has helped to push governments to adopt more ambitious plans to phase out fossil-fuel vehicles.

A second front, one of many her organisation is working on, is RE100, a campaign that encourages companies throughout the world to speed their transition to renewable energy. Companies in the commercial and industrial sectors account for around half of the world’s electricity consumption, which makes them invaluable as agents of change.

So far, more than 330 companies with combined revenue of $5.6tn – and with a greater combined electricity demand than that of the UK – have joined the campaign. Moreover, the average end-date for their transition to 100 per-cent renewable energy is 2028.

“We will soon see big businesses all over the world using only renewables for their energy needs,” says Clarkson. “By acting on things that they can do right now, they are starting to really move the dial in the bigger shift to net zero.”

Shareholders and other investors are playing an important part in pushing businesses to do more – and more quickly. But Clarkson, who spent years working on humanitarian missions in countries such as Nigeria, Sudan and Pakistan, says that companies today also have clear financial incentives to accelerate their carbon-reduction strategies.

“Adoption of renewables and other carbon-reduction measures are often cheaper than the alternatives, so there is no reason not to do it,” she says. “Even if you took the climate dimension out of it, it just makes business sense.”

Done right, and done quickly, Clarkson believes that the transition to a net-zero economy will produce a world that looks much like the one we have today. Sustainable economies will still have city streets that you can walk down, cars that you drive and industries that provide many of the goods and services that we have today.

But all of that requires action today, not ill-defined plans for tomorrow, she says. “There isn’t a moment to lose.”

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