Imagine this: you are driving down a rather steep slope and suddenly the brakes of the car fail. Incessant pressing of different pedals does no good, the doors have jammed so you can't jump off, and other things like the hand-brake don't seem to be functioning. Now, just as you are careening out of control, and trying to figure what to do, you see a large signboard that says, "Stop. Sharp Drop Ahead!” Were you in such a scene, what would your reaction be? Would panic set in, as you went helter-skelter trying to get a grip on the car? Or would you rather arch back on the seat, change music stations, and enjoy the passing view, with a firm belief that the signboard was a hoax and that statistically, death from brake-failure is pretty negligible, thus ruling out the possibility altogether.
Allegorically, the 'brake-failed' car is our current state, as we move towards a precipitous future, where climate change is a major factor. The signboard, well, that is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that keep coming up now and then, warning us of the inevitable. The condition over the past few decades has only gotten worse, since the IPCC came out with its First Assessment Report (FAR) back in 1990. Yet, there seems to be an element of sedate acceptability to these reports. When they do come out, there is a bit of hue and cry and then, things lapse into normalcy pretty soon. To be fair, the IPCC reports carry the baggage of past issues relating to credibility, and in parts incredulity based on exaggerated claims. Yet, the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of the scientific community points to a rather apocalyptic future, and we are now seeing evidence of it in mega storms, hurricanes, heat waves and so on.
The latest release of the IPCC Report, the sixth one to be precise, is rather dour in its outlook. The warning is stark and in your face. According to the report, humanity merely has some 12 odd years to turn the tables on climate change by bringing in massive measures in cutting carbon emissions. As per current trends, the world will cross the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by as early as 2030, precipitating the risk of extreme heat waves, drought, wildfires, floods and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people.
As of now, we are already two-thirds of the way there, with global temperatures having warmed about 1 degree C. To avoid the 2-degree benchmark would require a Herculean effort.
So, the big question is, whether there is a silver lining to this situation. Or are we fated to end in an Armageddon?
The report provides the answer. The global net emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach "net zero" around 2050 in order to keep the warming around 1.5 degrees C. Simple and doable? Not really. According to Jim Skea, co-chair of the IPCC Working Group III, "to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics. But doing so would require unprecedented changes."
And these unprecedented changes will require unprecedented efforts from all the stakeholders. Governments, corporates, aid agencies and normal people will have to work in tandem to bring the emissions down to zero. Drastic changes will be required in the energy sector, city infrastructure, transportation, supply chain and so on.
Sadly, at the moment, we are seeing the political will wavering on climate change. The biggest polluter on the planet, namely the US, has pulled out of the Paris Accord. Brazil, one of the top polluters, is also on its way out of the Paris treaty, thanks to the rise of a far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. The economic battles in Europe and Asia have also dampened the spirit on renewable energy. Meanwhile, Australia has thumped its support for coal even in the face of climate crisis.
The onus now lies on corporates to bring about positive change. They can take a leading role in reforestation, carbon offsetting and carbon sequestration, the three solutions for curbing emissions. In fact, businesses can positively influence the government and convince the public to look at climate change in a newer light. Here are four ways in which corporates can take the lead in curbing carbon emissions.
Footprint it all
Businesses need to assess all processes from a holistic perspective, namely, the footprint approach. Right from carbon to water, all the business processes need to be earmarked for the impact they have. Also, these footprints must be advertised publicly, so that the layman is able to understand the impact even the smallest actions have on the environment.
Companies also ought to promote innovation in the sphere of climate change by funding research or entrepreneurs. Newer solutions can come through grassroots, which are local and applicable.
Given the fact that the private sector is a major employer of the workforce, promoting environmental consciousness within the company can have a much greater impact. By turning their employees into ambassadors, companies can create a tremendous over-reach for climate range issues.
Green the supply chain
The corporates across the board need to assiduously work towards de-carbonising the supply chain. Given the severe impact the transportation sector has, greening the supply chain can go a long way in reducing overall carbon emissions.
Companies need to ingrain carbon consciousness into every aspect of their business. Right from reducing the usage of water, to making a shift to renewable energy, or going paperless, composting waste, and so on. There are scores of ways in which companies can adopt green and promote green.
In the end, just like the driver in the doomed car that’s going downhill, we need to try everything within our area of influence and beyond to curb emissions. “There is no documented historic precedent” for the action needed at this moment, says the IPCC Report. But then, there was no historical need for such an effort either. The future of our planet and our descendants is at stake. Every little bit will be of help.
Shashwat DC is Features Editor at CNBC-TV18. He is closet-activist for sustainability and CSR, when not pondering over the future of humanity or contemplating the launch of the new Android phone.
Have you signed up for Primo, our daily newsletter? It has all the stories and data on the market, business, economy and tech that you need to know.