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The ESG Review: From net zero noise to a focus on the detail

The UK’s party political conference season always brings with it a lot of rhetoric, but also draws criticism for being light on detail on how promises and pledges will be applied.

This year has been no different so far. With country’s target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 having already become a political football, the Conservative conference this week echoed the Prime Minister’s previous sentiment from the shifting of a couple of key policy milestones last month.

Net Zero Secretary, Claire Coutinho, told Tory faithful in Manchester that she welcomed such “sensible adjustments”, and decried the focus on achieving net zero as a “religion”, at least for climate activists.

The words may have been designed to appeal to voters sceptical of the speed of the transition and tired of the actions of activists, but they likely found less favour with businesses that are investing substantially in their own transformations, and have had to communicate that effectively to their whole workforces to rally the support required. That point of view is already supported by some Conservatives.

Regardless, the net zero noise is unlikely to abate for some time, and is increasingly politicised - the Guardian reported on green-minded colleagues having stayed away for Coutinho’s speech, while GB News trumpeted that the Prime Minister’s manoeuvres on net zero were a trap for Labour.

Once the lights have been turned off in Manchester, and after the Labour conference in Liverpool, we will be seeing more evidence provided to support what are becoming polarising points of view on the net zero priority.

One organisation demonstrated how not to do that a few days ago, with an almighty cock-up. Right wing think tank Civitas issued a report pointing to a £4.5 trillion cost for the UK achieving net zero by 2050, saying “the government need to be honest with the British people”. But it had confused Megawatts with Megawatt hours, so the purported figure was 10,000 times higher than reality. Quite a gap.

It was a reminder to communicators everywhere that the devil lies in the detail, and the details must be closely fact-checked to avoid embarrassment, or in future falling foul of the regulators. And for those of us used to testing our maths skills when totting up the results of a quick survey, the depths of climate science have represented a whole new world to get to grips with.

In future, communicating a UK business’s ESG commitments and achievements around net zero is going to require even greater scientific and statistical accuracy, but also be even more compelling in order to convince audiences that the path is the right one, amidst such political background noise.

The ESG News Review is written by Steve Earl, a Partner at PR agency BOLDT.

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