Environment well being

The climate is changing. How are businesses changing?

Nicola Tagliafierro • Head of Sustainability Enel X

Nicola Tagliafierro e Parmacotto Group

Firms’ responsibility to climate change

““Climate change has always existed throughout the history of the planet. But what we have experienced over the last 150 years is an abnormal change, because, as 97% of scientists agree1, it is of anthropogenic origin, that is, triggered by human activities – which is why scientists call this era the Anthropocene.” ”

Since 1975, the rate of global warming has been around 1.5-2°C1 per decade, and more greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere over the last 30 years than have been produced throughout history. This has caused a rise in average temperatures of about 1°C and resulted in an increasingly unstable climate. If we continue to pump around 50 billion tons of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere each year, according to the calculations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), temperatures will rise by 2°C2 in less than 25 years, with irreversible consequences for the planet and human life: one study by the UK met Office, for example, demonstrates that, with a 2°C rise in global temperature, the combination of heat and humidity would endanger the lives of one billion people, a figure 15 times higher than the number of people currently exposed to heat waves.

Responsabilità imprese e cambiamento climatico

In 2021, the United Nations Climate Conference COP26 in Glasgow gathered more than 200 countries together around a common objective established by the Paris Agreement: to keep the global temperature rise within a maximum threshold of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial era. The participation of the United States and China, the largest emitters of CO2, was in itself a major achievement. The participants reached an agreement on the commitments and strategies to be implemented, including the first ever plan to reduce the use of coal, the most polluting fossil fuel, to achieve the net zero targets: 2050 for Europe and the United States of America and 2060 for China. Despite the progress made, the agreement was deemed inadequate by many participating countries and environmental groups. The activist Greta Thunberg called the agreement “very vague”, observing the commitments are not binding and highlighting the decision to “phase down” rather than “phase out” coal because of opposition from India and China.1

The global social challenge posed by climate change calls for action not only from institutions but also businesses, which are being asked to adopt a long-term perspective, redesign their strategies and organisations, including in terms of resilience to and mitigation of the risk that climate change represents for many sectors. Because businesses catalyse both innovation and stakeholder demands – from citizens, institutions and investors – they also have the potential to accelerate change. The challenge facing businesses today is to embed sustainability into their business models, starting by measuring and reporting their impacts and then working on reducing and, last but not least, offsetting these. Companies have a duty to prove to society that they are actively contributing. They can do this by using authoritative measuring instruments and publicly reporting their overall impacts and those of their individual products, thereby countering the phenomenon of greenwashing and instead conveying reliability and instilling trust.

1 Environmental Research Letters 2016; http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/048002
2 NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)

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