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Jan 04 2024

Decoding the 1.5-Degree Challenge: A Business Guide to the Most Important Number in Climate Action

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Decoding the 1.5-Degree Challenge: A Business Guide to the Most Important Number in Climate Action

Unless you've been hiding under a rock (or perhaps a rapidly melting iceberg), you've probably heard a lot about the imperative to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It's the headline goal of the Paris Agreement, the rallying cry of climate activists worldwide, and increasingly, the benchmark against which companies are setting their own emissions reduction targets.

But for all the 1.5-degree buzz, there's still a lot of confusion and skepticism around what it actually means and entails. Is it just an arbitrary number picked out of a hat? Does it really matter if we overshoot it by a few tenths of a degree? And is it even possible to achieve, given the sluggish pace of global climate action to date?

Let's start with the science. The 1.5-degree target is based on a growing body of research showing that the impacts of climate change - from rising sea levels and extreme weather events to ecosystem collapse and food insecurity - become significantly more severe and irreversible above this threshold. In other words, 1.5 degrees is not just a nice-to-have, but a planetary boundary we cross at our peril.

To put it in perspective, we've already warmed the planet by about 1.1 degrees Celsius since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and we're on track to blow past 1.5 degrees as early as the 2030s if we don't dramatically accelerate the pace of emissions reductions. That means we have less than a decade to fundamentally transform the global economy and bend the emissions curve towards zero.

Daunting? Yes. Impossible? No. The good news is that we have the technologies, the policy tools, and the business models to achieve the 1.5-degree target - if we act with the urgency and scale that the science demands. And businesses have a critical role to play in driving this transformation.

Here's why the 1.5-degree challenge matters for companies:

It's a massive business opportunity: The transition to a 1.5-degree world will require an unprecedented wave of investment and innovation in clean energy, sustainable transportation, green buildings, regenerative agriculture, and other low-carbon solutions. Companies that lead the charge stand to capture trillions of dollars in new market value and create millions of green jobs.
It's a risk management imperative: The physical and transition risks of climate change - from supply chain disruptions and stranded assets to reputational damage and legal liabilities - are already materializing for businesses worldwide. By aligning with the 1.5-degree target, companies can build resilience, mitigate risks, and position themselves for long-term success in a carbon-constrained world.
**It's a moral and social responsibility:**Climate change is not just an environmental crisis, but a human rights and justice issue. Its impacts fall disproportionately on the world's most vulnerable populations, exacerbating poverty, inequality, and displacement. By contributing to the 1.5-degree goal, companies can help create a more equitable and livable world for all.

But how can businesses practically contribute to the 1.5-degree challenge? Here are a few key steps:

Set science-based targets: The first step is to align your company's emissions reduction targets with the 1.5-degree goal. The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) provides a robust framework for setting targets that are consistent with the latest climate science and the Paris Agreement. Over 1,000 companies worldwide have already committed to science-based targets, and the number is growing fast.
Decarbonize your operations and value chain: With targets in place, the hard work of actual emissions reduction begins. This means investing in energy efficiency, renewable energy, low-carbon transportation, and other solutions to drive down emissions across your operations and value chain. Don't forget to engage your suppliers, customers, and other partners in this effort - the 1.5-degree challenge requires an all-hands-on-deck approach.
Invest in climate solutions: Beyond reducing your own emissions, consider investing in the broader ecosystem of climate solutions - from clean tech startups and green bonds to nature-based carbon removal projects. These investments can help accelerate the transition to a 1.5-degree world while also generating new sources of revenue and business value.
Advocate for climate policy: No company can achieve the 1.5-degree target alone. We need bold policy action to level the playing field and drive systemic change - from carbon pricing and renewable energy standards to green infrastructure investment and just transition support. Use your voice and influence to advocate for the policies and regulations needed to accelerate the net-zero transition.
Collaborate and innovate: The 1.5-degree challenge is too big for any one company or sector to solve alone. Look for opportunities to collaborate with industry peers, civil society groups, government agencies, and other stakeholders to drive collective action and systems change. Embrace a spirit of experimentation and innovation, and be willing to pilot new technologies, business models, and partnerships.
As someone who has [helped dozens of companies align with the 1.5-degree target / built software tools to support science-based target setting and decarbonization / whatever your relevant background is], I've seen firsthand the power of this agenda to drive transformative change. It's not a quick fix or a feel-good exercise, but a fundamental reimagining of the role of business in the face of an existential crisis.

But I've also seen the immense creativity, ingenuity, and resolve that companies can bring to bear when they embrace the 1.5-degree challenge as an opportunity rather than a threat. From the boardroom to the factory floor, from the supply chain to the policy arena, the race to 1.5 degrees is mobilizing a new generation of business leaders determined to build a thriving, resilient, zero-carbon future.

The road ahead won't be easy. There will be setbacks and trade-offs, hard choices and uncomfortable changes. But with the stability of our planet and the well-being of billions on the line, there is no more urgent or important work.

So if you're a business leader reading this, my message is simple: Don't wait for certainty or consensus. The science is clear, the stakes are high, and the time for incrementalism is over. Embrace the 1.5-degree challenge with the full force of your ambition, your creativity, and your leadership.

Align your targets, decarbonize your business, invest in solutions, advocate for change, and never stop innovating. The future of your company - and our world - depends on it.

1.5 degrees is not just a number. It's a vision, a movement, a call to arms. And it starts with you. Let's get to work.

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