SCN – Retailers step up with pledges for Climate Action at COP26

Retailers pledged their support to accelerate a movement in the retail industry to drive climate action. We have all seen how the retail sector has faced challenges due to climate change like never before, which have only been accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The recognition of the need to take action to limit global warming to 1.5°C has never been higher. The most recent IPCC report paints a bleak picture of the future we must pass on to our children should we continue on our current trajectory. It is now well understood that there is a need to half global Carbon emissions by 2030 in order to avoid temperature rises of more than 2 degrees. 

The general feeling following reading the latest IPCC report to come out earlier this month is that we’ve already waited too long and that if we don’t act now the effects of climate change will only become more frequent and more devastating to both environments and economies.

A new campaign has just been launched with COP26 high level climate action champions called a race to zero where leading big name retail brands H&M , Ikea, and Walmart have come together to pledge their commitment to climate action and to accelerate other retailers to join them in setting carbon goals that will prevent the 1.5 degree temperature rise which is on the horizon.

According to the Race to Zero campaign ‘Despite bold actions from some leading retail brands, a decarbonization pathway for the sector is notably absent, with only 5% of retail businesses – by total global industry revenues – having committed to taking action to limit global warming in accordance with the Paris Agreement goals.’

COP 26 is fast approaching. It is a Global Climate Convention due to take place between 1-12 November in Glasgow. COP stands for a Conference Of the Parties which is held every year and has taken place since the 1990s. This will be the 26th conference of its kind where almost every country from across the globe comes together to discuss international climate issues – it is the ultimate Global Climate Summit where world leaders, civil society, politicians, businesses, and concerned citizens can all gather to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement.

It seems this year is the critical year within the critical decade. There is a visible acceleration of ambition and a sense of urgency as we see ourselves falling well short of limiting temperature rises of 2 degrees by 2030. All eyes are on Australia’s government to set much more aggressive targets.

As Ban Ki Moon stated bluntly ‘ Australia’s current goal of 26-28%reduction by 2030 and an absence of a national zero emission target is out of step with its states, its trading partners and other comparable nations’

Whilst our federal government seems reluctant to push ahead with the ambitious targets we need. We are seeing investors, corporations, local governments, city mayors, community groups, super funds, and sector groups (otherwise known at COP as nonstate actors)  really filling the gap and rising to the challenge and mobilising for COP26 to set their own targets to drive emissions reductions.

Whilst major retailers in Australia wield significant economic influence they seem to have been slow to make commitments that line up with a net zero aspiration by 2050. According to last year’s Net Zero momentum tracker, approx 4 out of the 5 retailers assessed are undertaking activities to reduce emissions or have pledged a commitment but no company had the commitment to reach net zero by 2050. The two most ambitious of all retailers in Australia were Amazon and Kathmandu with net zero by 2050 commitments for a significant proportion of their value chain emissions, and have the most ambitious commitments of those assessed.

Retail developers on the other hand seem to be stepping up and making serious commitments to climate action with GPT last year announcing a revised target to achieve net zero carbon emissions across its portfolio of managed buildings by the end of 2024. This is a significant advance on the previous target of 2030. 

Carbon commitments and pledges promise to shift the design and delivery of our retail assets to focus on both low embodied and operational carbon. The time is now to specify low embodied carbon materials; really consider how to reduce quantities through resource efficient design; prioritise refurbishment over new builds; support localised supply chains and adopt passive principles for ultimate operational carbon savings. This combined with the decarbonisation of our grid and consumer behavioural changes and shifts towards conscious purchasing choices and caring for our local environments could be the giant step that helps us get to where we need to be. What’s your pledge for COP26 this year – how can you take your climate goals and step them up a notch to contribute towards reducing our Carbon emissions and keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees- if not for our sake then for the sake of our future generations.

This article by Associate | Regenerative Development Lead Claire Bowles in the September 2021 edition of SCN magazine.

Claire Bowles

Claire Bowles

Purpose Director