Business-as-usual is business-of-the-past

Anna Triponel
December 8, 2023
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📢 “We can only overcome the climate crisis by ditching business-as-usual.”

Not my words. Those of the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell at COP28 on 6 December 2023.

Business-as-usual is a thing of the past. ⏳ It’s the business that understands the scale and urgency of the climate crisis ahead; that acknowledges its role and responsibility in the outdated systems that have led to this crisis; and that takes leadership in transforming its business in a rights-respecting way that will be here tomorrow. 💫

I’ve been doing a significantly greater number of Board, CEO and VP sessions on the topic of climate, business and human rights over the past 6 months. I see much wider acknowledgement this year that business-as-usual is business-of-the-past. 🛑 There are an ever-growing number of companies that are seeking to be bold, and to embrace the opportunity of the transformation ahead. 🌟 But much more needs to happen, and much faster.

I’ve just returned to London from Dubai. “So? What are your takeaways?” They are very simple.

(And see here my video with five key takeaways for business from COP28, and here for the letter just released today that I’ve signed with over 1,000 others, with a very clear way forward for the COP28 President and all Parties.)

Number 1: The urgency of the actions

Of course, we knew that we were rapidly warming the planet. 🌡️ But the latest scientific reports just released, that we have had the “pleasure” of reviewing, are very very alarming. 😧

We know what needs to happen. We need to limit warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, Crossing the 1.5°C threshold risks unleashing a number of severe climate change impacts as well as dangerous tipping points (see one of our weekly updates below for more on tipping points). 🌎

We know how to get there. We need to (1) reduce the greenhouses gases (GHGs) we are emitting globally by 43 per cent by 2030 (compared with 2019 levels), (2) reduce the GHGs we are emitting globally by 60 per cent by 2035 (compared with 2019 levels), and (3) reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 globally. We also need to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030, and restore and protect natural ecosystems. And of course, do these things in a rights-respecting people-positive way.

But we are a very long way off. ⏱️

A 2023 study led by Imperial College London researchers and published in Nature Climate Change (available here) found that we have a remaining carbon budget of 250 gigatons of CO2 equivalent. Based on the emissions for 2022 (57.4 gigatons of CO2 equivalent according to UNEP), this remaining carbon budget is less than five years of current CO2 emission. This basically means that we will have exhausted our current carbon budget before 2030, committing the world to warming of 1.5°C above preindustrial levels - if we continue with the current levels of GHG emissions. The breaching of the threshold is much nearer than we thought, even compared to COP26 in Glasgow two years ago. UNEP has found that we are on track for a temperature rise of 2.5 to 2.9°C.

The carbon budget is the amount of carbon dioxide that we can emit to keep within 1.5 °C of warming. To visualize how rapidly we have used up our carbon budget over the last few years, take a look at this visualization from EdHawkins. Long story short: we hardly have any carbon left to emit, and we need urgent and ambitious action to reduce emissions - while adapting to the warming planet and taking a rights-focused approach.

By the way, if you find yourself subtly putting barriers up to the recent scientific findings 📖 (surely the data can’t be that bad; I’m sure those figures are disputed by some scientists; the world will turn this around we always have), that’s human. Studies show that we do this to protect ourselves. 🛡️ We have to go through the discomfort and accept the science, to in turn take bold and meaningful action.

Number 2: The power of the just transitions

We have seen the just transitions move to centre stage. Just look at the number of events, reports and statements on the topic of just transitions, compared to even last year. 🙌

The global stocktake’s technical report (released in September - also discussed below) makes a very clear connection between advancing on the systems transformations needed, and focusing on inclusion and equity - making clear that equity enables greater ambition and increases the likelihood of meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. Those most affected by climate impacts should be involved in crafting the solutions, and just transition principles can be adopted and implemented through collective and participatory decision-making processes to reduce the disruptive consequences of rapid systems transformations.

2024: The year of just transitions in practice. Coming to your business soon 🫵

Number 3: The strong determination to act boldly, creatively and collectively

We don’t have a choice here. Feeling defeated is like saying to yourself, “I’m going to fail” when entering the exam room. And, well not to add even more pressure here, but there is no other exam. We don’t have a re-do option. We have the one chance.

So we have no other option than to turn this around. 🧑‍🤝‍🧑 We learnt in our weekly updates last week that the message of doing it because we are the only generation who can do it for future generations is the message that resonates the most strongly, for the most people, around the world. It’s the one that we hear when engaging with business leadership as well.  ⭐️

This week we learn in our weekly updates that there is a very strong relationship between optimism on the one hand, and a creative mindset on the other. ✨Being optimistic about the future can help us leverage the creative thinking that we need to in turn design and implement the actions needed ahead. A creative mindset helps us anticipate future consequences and plan ahead, it helps us be able to let go and suspend old patterns of thought, it helps us continue to do something - even when it is difficult or takes a long time (both of which apply to climate and rights actions), and it helps us spot opportunities ahead. And vice versa, cultivating a creative mindset can help us be more optimistic about the future. So optimism and creativity become fundamentals, not luxuries.

Al Gore said in 2015: “Years from now, our grandchildren will reflect on humanity’s moral courage to solve the climate crisis and they will look to December 12, 2015, as the day when the community of nations finally made the decision to act.” 2023-2024 can be remembered as the year where that decision was put into action through a collective of bold, meaningful and people-centred efforts worldwide.

So, although I feel tired and jet-lagged, I feel unbelievably strong. 💪🏻💪🏼💪🏽💪🏾💪🏿 I am determined like never before, as is my incredible team. We know we can still turn this around. ↩️ And you do too. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t. Through our combined work, we will reach a tipping point - an incredibly good one. One in which progress will be inevitable and unstoppable.

Anna 💫

PS: Sunday is Human Rights Day! 🎉 If you are in NYC, check out this event on Monday with a fantastic line-up of speakers in NYC hosted by IHRB.

PPS: This is a bumper issue with twice the number of updates in honour of COP28 this week.