Sustainable Development Goal 13: Urgent action to combat climate change

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"Sphere within a Sphere" by Arnaldo Pomodoro greets visitors to the United Nations headquarters in NYC. The foreboding depiction of the broken globe instills urgency during the preparations for the U.N.'s COP21 in December. 

This story first appeared on the blog of Corporate Citizenship, a global business consultancy specializing in sustainability and corporate responsibility. Its series of articles about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is running here.

Climate change and development goals cannot be pursued separately. Their interrelatedness finally has been recognized by including climate change as an SDG. "SDG No. 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change" highlights an important milestone as the issue was not addressed through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Eyes are on the Paris climate talks later this year where the new international agreements aimed at keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius will be determined. A warming climate will affect the availability of freshwater, food security and energy, among other necessities.

This is already being observed globally with countries experiencing changes in rainfall, more flooding, droughts, intense rain and more frequent heat waves. A common responsibility falls on all states to protect the environment, while recognizing the different circumstances each state faces in their ability to tackle the problem. This responsibility should be extended to companies where action needs to be taken in accordance to circumstances and potential.

SDG No. 13 has set out a number of global targets which countries need to take ownership of and define the specific responsibilities and targets befalling them.

  • Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.
  • Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning.
  • Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning.
  • Implement the commitment undertaken by developed-country parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to a goal of mobilizing jointly $100 billion annually by 2020 from all sources to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation and fully operationalize the Green Climate Fund through its capitalization as soon as possible.
  • Promote mechanisms for raising capacity for e­ffective climate change-related planning and management in least developed countries, including focusing on women, youth and local and marginalized communities.

 

SDG 13 #2

 

So what can companies do?

The role of business is ramping up, but it is currently not enough. Many types of risks face businesses, including climate change policy risk, reputational risk and market risks. It is in business' best interest to act fast to reduce this and seize opportunities such as new investments or new revenue streams. HSBC already has realized the potential of this field and has created new climate change indices (PDF) that can be invested in through the bank. Further benefits are outlined in Citi's (PDF) report, which states that $2 trillion savings will be generated if we move towards a low-carbon economy. There are many interrelated actions companies can take and are already taking to respond to SDG No. 13.

  • Lowering emissions is a thing of the past. The new target? Becoming net positive. One champion in this area is Dell, which aims to become net positive by having the consumers do 10 times more good than their footprint. Their plan includes 21 objectives for 2020, including waste-free packaging, reducing their carbon footprint by 50 percent and cutting the energy intensity of their product portfolio by 80 percent.
  • You can’t manage what you can’t measure. More sophisticated measurement systems and metrics are needed for businesses to be able to monitor, evaluate and report on the impacts of climate change at all levels of a company's operations. McGrath Group is using U.K.’s first system for assessing CO2 emissions during the waste management process. However, Science magazine’s article stresses the importance of going beyond measurement in isolation and at a larger scale.
  • Climate-resilient supply chains are needed in terms of reducing emissions as well as implementing high levels of adaptation to possible future climate risks. Companies also should set high expectations and targets with their suppliers. Thanks to Liberty Global’s (PDF) ambitious environmental program, it has announced savings of $325 million in 2014 and a 31 percent improvement in carbon efficiency.

  • The development of radically innovative technology and processes will continue to be one of the crucial solutions to not just mitigate climate change effects, but even reverse them. Biomimicry is one such fascinating field. Examples include solar cells inspired by leaves or companies such as Whale Power, which studies whale fin design to improve the efficiency of wind turbines.
  • Companies need to show governance by making their stance about climate change clear. This ranges from lobbying for climate change causes to joining meaningful pledges. There is good news in this field recently with 13 large U.S. corporations joining a series of climate change pledges worth $140 billion in green investments, or Norway’s sovereign-wealth fund excluding four companies from its investment portfolio due to concern around the companies' creating severe environmental damage.
  • There is a need to cooperate by bringing together mutually beneficial partnerships between the private, public and voluntary sectors, such as the private-public partnership among Pepsico, the U.N. World Food Program and the United States Agency for International Development to promote long-term nutritional and economic security in Ethiopia by increasing chickpea production.

In closing, to tackle SDG No. 13, one element stands out as being absolutely crucial to goal achievement: urgency.

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