Harry Verhaar, Signify's Head of Global Public & Government Affairs and a speaker at this year's World Climate Summit - The Investment COP, makes the case for greater—and swifter—climate action.
Authored by Harry Verhaar, Head of Global Public & Government Affairs, Signify
Conversations about the climate crisis play out very differently today than they would have just ten years ago. Thanks to the efforts of the UN, organisations such as The Climate Group, the media, and, not least, a group of educated and vocal Gen-Zers, public debate has become much more widespread and far more demanding. Climate has taken its place as the most pressing issue on the agenda of many of the world’s governments.
Outside of a few dwindling pockets of naysayers, human-effected climate change is no longer up for debate. Amid public outcry at the burning Amazon, an area of forest the size of the Netherlands has been devastated by forest fires in Siberia.
In Greenland, the delicate balance has been distorted, and currently around 300 megatons of extra meltwater are released each year from declining glaciers. That’s equivalent to 40 years’ worth of drinking water for today’s world population, in one year alone.
The time for action
The greatest challenge is that the climate crisis is the first crisis we must resolve before it fully unfolds. There is no question that the time for talk is over.
Now we need to see urgent action in line with what climate science demands. Four years have passed since the Paris Agreement. It seems barely credible that, after signing up to this commitment, leaders are continuing to debate what needs to be committed to and when.
We teach our children that they have fixed ambition levels and deadlines for schoolwork that are static and non-negotiable. Yet as adults in society, we fail to hold our leadership to the same standards.
I don’t believe that the public needs parenting. But business and political leaders are here to serve public ambition. It’s high time that our political leaders embrace and confirm that the required ambition level — nationally and globally — is no less than complete carbon neutrality. And the deadline is 2050, if not sooner. This is the legacy the next generation deserves, and we must set about achieving it now.
The Climate Group is driving a series of first-class programmes; among them, the LED Light Savers program, RE100, EV100; and, from the World Green Building Council, the Net Zero Carbon Buildings program. These initiatives turn talk into action and have Signify’s unequivocal backing.
We can ensure the climate neutrality ambition delivers results by following the 10/20/70 rule. That means spending:
10% of our time and effort in inspiration, creating awareness and education on why we need to become carbon neutral
20% of our efforts should be on aspiration, defining more closely what we’ll do, and by when
70%, most of our time, must be spent on perspiration, by which I mean, rolling up our sleeves and getting the job done
Taking vital next steps
Following the 10/20/70 rule, let’s commit to something quantifiable. Global carbon neutrality by 2050 is achievable if governments make this a priority, set meaningful milestones, and cast this ambition level into law.
Governments must enable regulatory frameworks and hold themselves continually and consciously accountable. Political leaders can apply the third part of the 10/20/70 rule by creating Net Zero Carbon Building programmes for government buildings, by converting all public building electricity consumption to renewable energy, and by joining EV100 and switching ministerial car fleets to electric vehicles.
These actions will create case studies, jobs, and examples of positive leadership to enhance public engagement and support. Not least, the learnings will help finetune policies and financial instruments so that these deliver better results faster.
As businesses, we can afford to do even better, and we encourage companies to aim for carbon neutrality by, at latest, 2030. In ten years’ time, what we now consider best practice must be common practice.
To demonstrate this, we like to use the 3% rule. If we achieve an improvement rate of 3% energy efficiency each year, driven by a similar 3% in infrastructure renovation rates, combined with a 3% annual increase in the use of renewables, we’ll be well on the way to achieving a carbon-neutral world by 2050.
Futureproofing as good business
There’s no doubt that having zero-carbon operations will be good for business as consumers become more aware and B2B customers hold their supply chains under closer scrutiny. At Signify, we’re taking this so seriously that sustainable operations is more than just a public commitment, and more than a point of commercial differentiation: We’ve made it core to our company purpose; because it’s the right thing to do.
We also want to show what’s possible. As a large global organisation, we have a unique opportunity to model how we got our business on course to be carbon neutral by 2020. It has required great ambition and some important decisions along the way, but crucially, we’re proving that it’s possible.
We’re aiming for 100% renewable energy, and we’re almost there, running currently at 92%. We’re switching our fleets of company cars to electric and hybrid vehicles. We’re making our own buildings carbon neutral. We’ve created offset programmes to close the remaining gap.
And perhaps most importantly, we’ve built sustainability into our product design, with each product scored for a circular economy. Everything we do is driven by approved, science-based targets. All of this, in just five years. And if we can do it, others can, too.
Decoupling lighting use and electricity consumption
The payoffs of investing in sustainable technology are significant and more immediate than one might think. Some people once thought it impossible to phase out the incandescent light bulb. In 2006, when we called for such a transition, lighting accounted for 19% of global electricity use.
Since then, the lighting sector has gone through one of the fastest transitions we have ever seen. By 2018, electricity consumption had fallen to 13% and by 2030, it will be just 8%. At the same time, the number of light points is on the rise, and by 2030, there will be about 35% more.
It’s a great reminder that growth and energy consumption need not go hand in hand. They can be decoupled, enabling socioeconomic development while at the same time contributing to protecting our climate.
So, my call to action is simple: let’s close the gap between commitment and action and get behind a carbon-neutral world no later than 2050. As businesses, let’s lead the way by committing to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 at the latest.
And let’s make sure that in our conversations in ten years’ time, we’re able to reflect on our actions and our momentous progress in overcoming this greatest challenge to humanity’s future.
Harry Verhaar will return as a speaker for the 10th Anniversary Edition of World Climate Summit - The Investment COP taking place alongside COP25 in Madrid, Spain on December 8th, 2019. Registration is available here.