Why businesses must set transparent and ambitious climate targets

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Differences in the way companies set goals and assess carbon emissions could stifle attempts to keep the climate cool and frustrate climate-conscious millennials.

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Businesses have a huge role to play in the fight against climate change; especially those in the property sector which accounts for around one third of all carbon emissions globally.  But differences in the way companies set goals and assess their carbon emissions could frustrate attempts to keep the climate cool.

The need for a common language

When it comes to action on climate change, the many ways that companies set goals and measure emissions makes it very difficult for outsiders to track their progress. Companies often use different years as benchmark levels of their carbon emissions, for example. Without speaking a common language, conflicting numbers may undermine confidence in reaching targets, and even in the targets themselves. Clouded by all this confusion, how can we possibly know if companies are making any meaningful progress on climate change?

Leading with science

Thankfully, there is now the Science Based Target Initiative, which works with companies to ensure that they play their part in keeping the temperature rise ‘below 2 degrees Celsius’, a goal that 195 countries agreed to pursue at the UN climate talks in Paris in 2015. The initiative raises the prospect that companies’ targets will soon be comparable, and aligned to wider international goals. Land Securities is the first property company to sign up to this increasingly popular initiative.

Neutral territory

Many companies from Aviva to Wilmott Dixon have taken a different tack, aiming to be carbon neutral. To become carbon neutral, they must identify their emissions, invest in projects to reduce, before investing in external projects that offset any emissions they can’t cut. In recent years the conceptual and scientific value of offsets has been highly criticised, putting many companies off.

Positive thinking

Some companies are moving well beyond climate as a risk and climate neutral agendas. They want to make an overall positive climate contribution and don’t see zero or neutral as their vision. Hammerson is one such example with the recent launch of its business wide 2030 commitment to become “net positive” in a host of areas, including carbon. Similarly Lendlease is working with the C40 Climate Positive Development programme on some of its major urban regeneration projects, including Elephant & Castle in London. The plan is for this to be ‘Climate Positive’ by 2020 and for it to become a blueprint for the large-scale cityscapes of the future.

Our future, in their hands
Until the commitments made in the Paris Agreement are scaled up and entered into law the world over, we desperately need the private sector to set transparent and ambitious climate goals. But without the business community speaking a common language, discrepancies in the way companies set and assess goals may undermine confidence in reaching targets, and could hinder progress.
Forward-thinking companies are realising that clear and tangible action on climate will win the hearts and minds of the climate-conscious millennials. So if all else fails, it will be the millennials that convince companies to act.

This article is written by Anthony Maguire and Laura Jockers in JLL’s Upstream Sustainability Services team.

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