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The ESG Review: UN calls for bigger, bolder action on emissions

Global greenhouse gas emissions are on track to fall by a mere two per cent by 2030, and so are way off the pace needed to attain net zero by 2050, according to a new United Nations report.

The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pointed to a chasm between governmental and corporate pledges to tackle emissions, and the reality so far.

That minimal level of progress on reductions may all sound like stuff of banner headlines. But the Financial Times reported that net emissions would actually rise by nine per cent by 2030.

While the New York Times laid the blame at the feet of governments, Politico pointed out that it amounted to a failure of the Paris climate agreement. The UN’s Secretary General Antonio Guterres outlined the need for an ”ambition supernova” to cut emissions far faster.

The call for bigger, bolder action couldn’t have been clearer.

The questions are whether nods and soundbites at COP28 in a few weeks will be followed by direct political action that has the majority support of electorates, and how businesses may or may not recalibrate their efforts.

The US has, of course, always been central to that need for change, given its level of emissions and recent political history. In a separate report this week, the US is warming faster than the global average and on track to suffer a climate disaster every three weeks that costs at least $1 billion, according to The Guardian.

The UK Government, meanwhile, has problems and solutions of its own making this week, but is apparently planning to introduce a carbon border tax similar to that across the European Union.

And in China, says Reuters, “structural emissions” are set to fall from next year as less fossil fuels are used to produce energy.

Meanwhile, the EU is set to unveil a substantial financial pledge through a new fund for climate damage at COP28.

The headlines are stark and, frankly, frightening. They were always intended to be, in advance of the conference in Dubai. For businesses that have made emissions reductions pledges - and there are many of them - the question is how they acknowledge the UN report and the data it contains while demonstrating their own progress and outlining what governmental action they believe is needed.

As this BBC long read piece put it this week, “While companies have taken strides to act on their pledges, there are still outstanding questions about the transparency and meaningful steps towards change, leading both consumers and even UN leaders to call for tougher standards and greater corporate transparency. There's optimism businesses can make an impact, but the road to developing and executing on concrete plans may be rocky.”

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

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