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Why 2020 was a heartening year for those tackling the climate crisis

By Vaughan Lindsay, CEO of ClimateCare

2020 was a year full of uncertainly and presented challenges for so many people. Not only did the pandemic affect our health and personal lives, it also fundamentally challenged our political, social, and economic norms too. Most notably though, the impact it had on how many of us think about tackling the big issues like climate change has been huge. It’s because of this – and despite its challenges – that 2020 has actually been an encouraging  year for those of us involved in fighting the climate crisis.

2020 saw record levels in corporate ambition on climate change, as companies looked to ‘build back better’. We also witnessed corporates redoubling their efforts to tackle the climate crisis and saw many big brands sign up to the UN Race to Zero (in fact the figures doubled this year). In addition to this, the US made commitments to re-join the Paris Agreement, China made a commitment to Net Zero and the UK government pushed mandatory reporting of the business impacts of climate change by 2025. The UK also increased its ambition to cut emissions by 68% by 2030 based on 1990 levels.

It’s been encouraging to see an ever-increasing number of corporates committing to achieve Net Zero status. However, whilst it is great to see firms working hard to measure their footprint and set reduction targets, many firms have admitted that they are waiting to get this right before they take action to reduce and compensate for their emissions. This has been a concern for us over the past year, because, whilst these plans and long-term targets are commendable, they do little for the environmental damage that is being done right now. There is a risk of action hiding behind plans.

Many in the industry will be aware that we need to more than halve emissions by 2030. This is equivalent to reducing the current emissions of China, India, the EU and the US combined. This is a mammoth task. Our advice therefore to clients over this past year has been to consider driving actions simultaneously and at pace, and then modifying and adjusting moving forward. In simple terms, there really isn’t time to take things one step at a time anymore. We need to take action right away.

Saying that though, there is a great deal of hope as we move into next year. Not least because we are seeing more and more experienced professionals and organisations (such as WWF, SBTi, Oxford University, UN and the Taskforce) all agreeing with the rationale that we cannot reach Net Zero without including external emission reductions and offsetting emissions. This acknowledgement by experts across the board of the vital role of offsetting, is of course, just the beginning and we are likely to see this filter down more into policy too.

Perhaps another key event of 2020, was the Taskforce on scaling the voluntary carbon markets launching its consultation paper in November 2020. This paper aimed to identify ways to scale the voluntary carbon markets by up to 160 times to help tackle climate change. It is great to see the experts agreeing with our long-held rationale and acknowledging that taking responsibility for today’s emissions through carbon offsetting is essential if we are to meet our Net Zero targets and prevent catastrophic climate change.

As a project developer ourselves, we will be keen to see how the Taskforce can help to unlock new demand and finance for project development in 2021, helping us deliver more emission reductions from high quality projects. As always, the devil will be in the detail and more will play out on this in the New Year. Certainly though, as this and other interest in the voluntary carbon market develops, our primary concern and focus remains on continuing to scale our activity to finance, manage and develop robust and effective carbon reduction projects that both cut carbon and improve lives. This, of course, has been a major focus throughout 2020, despite the pandemic, and will continue to be in 2021.

As we look ahead to 2021, we should also see more of these ambitious plans and statements put into practice, as companies continue to turn their plans (and pledges) into action. Ultimately the environment for ambitious action has never been better, be it via the UK Government’s 10-point green plan or the recommendation to help scale the voluntary carbon markets and this certainly provides an exciting outlook for next year.

2021 will also bring about the postponed COP26, which provides a real opportunity to clarify how to implement the Paris agreement and bolster international carbon markets. The US re-joining the Paris agreement adds further weight to this and hopefully we can help forge true international cooperation moving forward too. These will of course be great accelerators for the industry overall, however as previously mentioned, the key here is for corporates to act now rather than waiting on policy decisions because time is of the essence.

We believe that the issue of climate change is now central to nearly all forward-thinking corporates and 2021 will present one of the most encouraging environments for them to act on this. Never before has it been so vital to ensure that the role of the voluntary carbon market delivers real additional emission reductions on the ground and at scale.

Let’s make 2021 the year of increasing action to build on this year of increasing ambition. Because the climate will not respond to targets, it will only respond to carbon cuts. It is action that really counts.