Tackling Net Zero Emissions in 2021

This coming November, the 26th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties – popularly known as COP26 – will draw worldwide attention. Set to be hosted in Glasgow, the summit will be the most significant climate event since the 2015 Paris Agreement. That’s because the heads of state, climate experts and negotiators attending COP26 will be charged with formulating the most ambitious goals yet for ending the global business community’s contributions to climate change.

The UK figures prominently in the event. As the first major economic center to set legally binding targets to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to “net-zero” by 2050, the UK has become a primary locus for net-zero initiatives. As such, it has become somewhat of a laboratory for strategies and methodologies aimed at helping global companies achieve net-zero carbon emissions – all of which has concrete implications for sustainability at the global supply chain level.

COP26 will be the largest summit the UK has ever hosted, with around 30,000 attendees expected if it proceeds as a fully in-person event. Comparison to the 2015 Paris Agreement is in order since it is that agreement in which all signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to keep temperatures well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Target, Measure, and Act

Establishing common ground among all participating countries has been the first order of business. In its leading role, the UK’s formation of the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), works with businesses, individuals and communities to achieve a “circular economy” by helping them reduce waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way.

Operating within a specific range of focus areas (food and drink, plastic packaging, clothing and textiles, and collections and reprocessing), WRAP has provided a model for assessing the impact that resource efficiency can make in achieving climate change targets. In doing so, WRAP places particular emphasis on an approach it has dubbed “Target, Measure and Act.”

Applied to the four focus areas in which it operates, WRAP’s Target, Measure, Act methodology calls upon businesses to first target areas within their direct and indirect supply chains that afford opportunities for material improvements in the context of climate change. After measuring the impact of its supply chain in terms of green-house gas emissions and other pollutants, WRAP calls for companies to operationalise these insights and realise improvements that hasten compliance with the goal of net-zero emissions.

A Matter of Scope

Companies in most customer-facing sectors produce lower emissions in their own operations than are produced “end-to-end” across their full supply chains. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under the aegis of its Center for Corporate Climate Leadership has established three tiers of harmful emissions.

Scope 1 and 2 addresses “direct” emissions from sources that are controlled or owned by an organisation – for example, fuel combustion in boilers, furnaces, and vehicles as well as emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat, or cooling.

Scope 3 is where the rubber meets the road for responsible, sustainable supply chain management. The importance of Scope 3 initiatives cannot be overstated given that eight supply chain categories – food, construction, fashion, fast-moving consumer goods, electronics, automotive, professional services and freight – account for more than 50% of global emissions.

Many companies can multiply their climate impact by decarbonising supply chains. It is believed that net-zero supply chains would actually have minimal impact on end-consumer costs. However, the challenges of doing so are not insignificant. For example, the data needed to target, measure and act on emissions are often “buried” deep in the supply chain, so addressing them might require collective action at the industry level.

Investment and Innovation will be Essential

Add to this constantly changing supplier networks, and the challenges of achieving net-zero emissions become obvious. Tackling the climate crisis will require decisive global action and significant investment and innovation by the public and private sectors, as well as a clearly defined strategy to meet these ambitious targets.

However, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. Systematic, flexible yet consistently applied strategies and measures within these core supply chain ecosystems can be developed. These will be essential in ensuring that the global community can successfully navigate the road to net zero. Understanding the long-term sustainability impact on businesses will call for responsible business practices, combined with collaboration and innovation.

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AcronymTitleDefinition
COP26Conference of the PartiesThe next annual UN climate change conference, which will take place in Glasgow on 31 October – 12 November 2021.
UNFCCUnited Nations Framework Convention on Climate ChangeThe UNFCCC’s ultimate objective is to achieve the stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous interference with the climate system.
WRAPWaste & Resources Action ProgrammeWRAP is a British registered charity. It works with businesses, individuals and communities to achieve a circular economy, by helping them reduce waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way.
EPAThe U.S. Environmental Protection ActThe Environmental Protection Agency is an independent executive agency of the United States federal government tasked with environmental protection matters.

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