Earth Month: A look back on 2023 so far

From the start of this year, climate change, net zero, and other environmental topics have been discussed extensively in the media. Interestingly, media sentiment around decarbonisation efforts has been fairly negative, with a few promising wins reported but undoubtedly a lot of question marks over whether we can or cannot achieve net zero by the 2050 deadline.

This Earth Month, as our battle with the climate crisis continues to intensify, we summarise the key environmental moments from 2023 so far, including climate policy and regulation, net zero planning, and overall pro-environmental action.

The IPCC Report

United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released yet another eye-opening report in March, which was described as a “final warning” by scientists. Experts said the action being taken to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is “insufficient”, while suggesting we may actually exceed the 1.5 degrees limit set out by the Paris Agreement by the 2030s if we carry on as we are.

Temperatures are now about 1.1C above pre-industrial levels, the IPCC found. If Greenhouse Gas Emissions peak soon and are reduced rapidly in the following years, it may still be possible to avoid the worst ravages that would follow a 1.5C rise.

Greenwashing and Greenhushing persist

In the past three months, various businesses and sectors have been accused of finding new and innovative ways to greenwash and greenhush. Discrepancies between climate pledges and transparency in climate reporting have also been identified. For example, new analysis released in January suggests that only a handful of Verra’s rainforest carbon offsetting projects demonstrate deforestation reductions, with further analysis indicating that 94% of the credits had no benefit to the climate. Their rainforest offset credits – commonly used by companies – are likely to be “phantom credits” and do not represent genuine carbon reductions.

And the fashion industry is really feeling the heat. A study by Changing Markets Foundation in 2022 reported that nearly 60% of green claims made by 12 major fashion brands in the UK and Europe were unsubstantiated or misleading, and this worrying trend is continuing. The United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action and CDP released their 2023 progress report last month and the report has been criticised for focussing more on companies’ climate goals and disclosure practices than their actual emissions or decarbonisation strategy — a trend that many progress reports have been criticised for.

Click here to read our Greenhushing explainer.

Green Day Announcements

On the 30th of March, the UK government published an updated net zero plan. It followed a ruling by the High Court last July which decided the current plan failed to show how the UK would achieve net zero by 2050. On what was coined the UK’s ‘Green Day’, the government published its official response to the Independent Review of its previous net zero strategy, which was led by MP Chris Skidmore. The review detailed 129 recommendations across key sectors such as the built environment, renewable energy, green finance, and nature. However, the updated plan has attracted criticism from activists and thought leaders who don’t believe it goes far enough.

For example, the announcements included a loophole to offset any shortfalls in sales for car manufacturers in the first few years with a higher proportion of EV sales in later years, diluting the government’s EV transition. Extensive documentation also confirms that the UK will continue its policy of expanding fossil fuel production in the North Sea – despite calls from UK academics, Conservative politicians, and activists for the country to stop issuing new oil and gas licences.

The importance of having solution-oriented conversations

In the first few months of 2023, many reports, research, and conversations have highlighted the causes and challenges of climate change. Although comprehensive solutions like regulatory frameworks like the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) are there to guide companies, a lot of businesses are still unclear about their decarbonisation strategies. A better sense of direction and guidance is needed for business leaders to start ‘walking the walk’. This can be achieved with the support of internal experts, consultants, and collaborators, but ultimately it needs to be led from the top.

The theme for Earth Day 2023 on the 22nd of April is Invest In Our Planet. It’s a call for governments, businesses, and individuals to invest in a better future for the planet. We need to have fewer conversations about the problems associated with climate change and start prioritising solutions. This means having more conversations about what we can do, what people are already doing, what is going well, and what can be improved.

Conversations catalyse action. A great place to start would be amplifying the voices of thought leaders and experts, wherein their advice and expertise can support various stakeholders in understanding how they could be a part of the solution. This could reroute a relatively pessimistic, nagging narrative to a an optimistic, hopeful, and positively reaffirming one.

To read more about our experience in sustainability click here or to discuss how we could support your organisation on its net zero journey why not get in touch today.

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