“Mr. Biden will take office at a time when humankind faces the choice of life over death.”
This sobering statement came from another former Vice President, Al Gore, as he set the context for Joe Biden this week being sworn in as the 46th President of the United States of America. On the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement (12 December 2020), The New York Times published Gore’s opinion piece – Al Gore: Where I find hope – identifying the climate as a key challenge awaiting the new president. Gore has been campaigning for the climate since the release of An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 after his failed bid to transition from VP to the Oval Office. Years on, climate action has finally moved right up the agenda, and it’s another ex-VP at the helm.
International standards commit to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement. And yet climate anxiety continues to grow.
Many believe the targets are still not ambitious enough, even though the climate agenda is increasingly being pushed to the forefront of international politics – and industry.
That is partly why the year 2021 has all the makings of the tipping point in climate action. The UK is hosting COP26, and businesses, cities and institutions around the globe are joining the Race To Zero, each now looking to arrive on brighter, low carbon shores first, rather than being the last to leave the sinking ship, powered by fossil fuels.
The team behind the Paris Agreement had the foresight to see that progress can be exponential. They built in a rachet mechanism which binds countries into ever more ambitious commitments. Targets which initially seemed ambitious – such as 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030, as committed in the Sector Deal, March 2019 – are cast aside as we reach above and beyond our original vision (now 40 GW). To quote Oscar Wilde, ‘progress is the realisation of Utopias’.
Even within frameworks without a guaranteed rachet mechanism, climate policy is progressively more ambitious. Local authorities across the UK are committing to net zero targets in 2030, well ahead of the UK government’s official target date of 2050.
Many in the corporate world are equally ambitious. IKEA has pledged to be a circular business and to be climate positive by 2030. Pharmaceutical companies – including AstraZeneca and GSK – which are manufacturing (with the associated emissions) life-saving drugs in the pandemic are committing to net zero also by 2030. And, after being identified as the most polluting brand in 2019, Coca-Cola announced its ambition to be net zero by 2040 – not bad given its starting point.
The UK Government is extending its own policy ambitions beyond its existing commitments. The last couple of months have seen momentous announcements including the end of selling new petrol and diesel cars, again by the magic date of 2030 (it’s going to be quite a year), the much anticipated Energy White Paper fully committing to Net Zero across the board, and most recently, the Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP being moved from the Cabinet to a new role as the full-time COP26 president, signalling that the COP26 commitments are on a par with the many other pressing government priorities.
Across industry, politics and community, climate policy is racing forwards. As Wilde noted, we never quite reach the final utopia; “when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail.”
Nevertheless, Gore’s ongoing campaign, now more of a mission, may yet prove a success. As another former VP steps up to the line, there’s cause for cautious optimism.
Katherine Wingate is an account manager at Camargue