By Lise Kingo

Climate change has become the new reality. It is forcing businesses to build strong partnerships and push for a low-carbon economy. Frontrunners are already proving that multi-stakeholder partnerships are key for sustainable, inclusive and principle-based solutions.

The recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sent a stark reminder of both the immense challenge of climate change and the dramatic scale and pace of the effort required to keep our world safe. In order to hold global warming to an increase of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the report says, we have to slash greenhouse gas emissions by about 45% in 12 years.

No easy task, but climate change is a daily reality, affecting every country on every continent. It is disrupting national economies and affecting lives, across peoples, communities and countries – with the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people affected the most.

We face enormous challenges that can’t be solved by any country or any company on its own. Climate change is the defining challenge of our time. Yet, it is still possible to limit warming to 1.5°C and the ambition is there. At COP24, member states reaffirmed the timeline agreed in Paris for countries to submit national climate commitments by 2020.

Governments know it, companies know it: Climate action is also the mega driver to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Or, in other words, urgent action to halt climate change and deal with its impacts is integral to the successful implementation of all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The private sector has a critical role to play and every reason to do its part. Last year we saw an unprecedented rise in the number of companies aligning with the Paris Agreement. One-fifth of Global Fortune 500 companies have now committed to set science-based targets. The New Climate Economy report suggests that all Fortune 500 companies set science-based targets by 2020.

As these companies recognize that greater ambition reaps greater benefits, some are now also pursuing 1.5°C aligned emissions reductions targets and committing to be net-zero by 2050.

Moving up the agenda

Climate change is the highest priority ESG issue facing investors today. We have seen an upward trend of major investors that are making serious efforts to manage the risks and capture the opportunities that climate change presents. Companies are acting because these investors, their employees, and consumers expect them to capture new market opportunities and prepare for risks in a changing climate. Over 400 investors representing $32 trillion call for a carbon price between $38-100 by 2030.

The world requires more urgency and far more ambitious corporate and governmental action to cut emissions by half by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050. All companies need to align their business strategies with what the science says is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. This will take unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.

New forms of inclusive multilateralism

We live in a critical time in human history. While geopolitical issues remain challenging, we need new forms of cooperation and a new networked multilateralism, with the UN at its centre, but with closer links with the private sector, civil society and other stakeholders. Networking and being inclusive is essential in the shift toward a net-zero world so that we can bring about an economy-wide transformation on a scale we have never seen before.

This call for an inclusive multilateralism requires raised ambition, and is an opportunity for every business leader to take climate action based on a principles-based approach that places human rights at the centre of their strategy.

At the UN Global Compact, we continue to be at the forefront of mobilizing and challenging the international business community to do its part to help create the world we all want. As businesses around the world are rising to the challenge of building a low-carbon economy and accelerating action on climate change, we can no longer call isolated corporate climate action ‘leadership’. It remains vital that all climate action and corporate operations are interlinked with the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and promotion of human rights.

Opportunity for a great “Ambition Loop”

The deep changes needed to achieve the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals will require transforming value systems, establishing a culture of integrity and aligning business practices with universal principles.

With hundreds of businesses pursuing bold climate change solutions and hundreds of countries updating their national climate plans, the opportunity for greater ambition abounds. Businesses now have the opportunity to send strong signals to government and build commercial demand with bold targets to invest in climate change solutions. Responsible business leaders do so in a manner that inspires, and can be replicated in the world around them.

From carbon pricing to science-based targets, commitments by the private sector at the global level have informed policy shaping at the country level. These global commitments are encouraging governments to ramp up their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) towards the Paris Agreement implementation.

When businesses set ambitious public commitments, governments have more political support and confidence to pass ambitious climate policies. When governments set effective, clear policies that favor innovations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, businesses have greater certainty and incentives to invest. This is an Ambition Loop: bold business leadership supports bold policy action, that in turn accelerates action and investment, and unlocks further opportunities with clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems while limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

Mobilising businesses everywhere

Governments looking to speed progress on climate and development goals will need to find champions among those companies with shared interest in policies that limiting global warming to 1.5°C. To this end, we will need far more corporate leadership to help assess the implications of climate change, integrating their climate commitments into policy positions and providing constructive, responsible input to government.

In this spirit, the UN Global Compact will mobilize businesses everywhere to support the UN Secretary General’s call for raised ambition and leadership, and create the “tipping points” needed to make climate action business as usual.

Together with the London-based thinkthank Volans, we will mobilize leading companies to commit to building a new carbon economy and come forward with new breakthrough solutions where businesses are sequestering more carbon through their operations than they emit.

Leading up to the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in September 2019, the Caring for Climate initiative and the UN Global Compact Action Platform on Pathways to Low-Carbon & Resilient Development will serve as an incubator to help companies around the world to provide ambitious and meaningful contributions.

Let’s work together to transform business models and spark breakthrough innovation. There is still time to secure the world that we know. We are at a critical juncture, where every day climate change is moving faster than we are, and where every half degree of global warming will make a world of difference. Although the window is closing fast, there is still time to change course and move toward a 1.5°C pathway. We have the technology, the tools, and most importantly we know the actions that are necessary to close the emissions gap.

Together we can take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts and send strong market signals, accelerating pathways to low-carbon and resilient development. By catalyzing multi-stakeholder dialogues and partnerships, we can create more sustainable, inclusive and principle-based solutions.