Jaguar Land Rover, Scottish Widows, Shell, Coca-Cola – what do they all have in common you may ask? These are just some of the companies that have announced new net zero or decarbonisation targets in the past month alone.
Rarely a week goes by without one corporate pledge or another in the headlines, which is no surprise with the countdown to Net Zero by 2050 firmly cemented in law and backed up by other sector-based targets – in Jaguar Land Rover’s case, the recent 2030 ban on sales of petrol and diesel vehicles. In addition, the UK hosting COP26 in November is proving a catalyst with organisations making with bigger and bolder climate change commitments.
Those who have been operating in this space for some time have noted a significant step change in the Government’s attitude towards decarbonisation even in the past 18 months. In place of past visions for ‘clean growth’ and a ‘delivering a low carbon future’, Net Zero is now the central driver at the heart Government thinking. Across Government all policy decisions are judged against their impact to advancing the 2050 goal, just as policies are assessed against other long used metrics such as equal representation.
This has been a clear emphasis in Government rhetoric on the need for a ‘green’ recovery from the pandemic, and even in the early days we heard from officials that Ministers had made clear that the coronavirus crisis cannot detract from the other crisis on our hands – the climate crisis.
Albeit with some delays, the Government has progressed a swathe of policy papers in the past 6 months with plans to deliver on the decarbonisation challenge. Gone are the days when this was a single policy area dealt with by a Department for Energy and Climate Change, it now pervades all corners of Whitehall – from the PM’s own 10-Point Green Plan, to BEIS’ Energy White Paper, the Treasury’s National Infrastructure Strategy and Net Zero Review, the DfT’s upcoming Decarbonisation Plan, to the DHSC’s Net Zero NHS Plan.
The cynics among us may argue that Boris Johnson has eyed up the decarbonisation challenge as a vote winning gold, and an opportunity for the UK to become a global leader and secure our ‘Place in the World’, nudged on behind the scenes by his environmentalist fiancé.
Yet the Government isn’t merely sitting back and letting shifts in public thinking bring a natural evolutionary trend towards a greener economy. Despite comments from those who like to quote from the Prime Minister’s ‘libertarian’ Telegraph articles in his early journalism days, Boris Johnson’s administration has proved to be increasingly interventionist, and not just in this policy area.
The announcements of Jaguar Land Rover, Scottish Widows, Shell, Coca-Cola and others, are no longer CSR or ESG ‘nice to haves’ that can be leveraged as a reputational leg-up in external affairs activity. Strong environmental credentials no longer open doors but are becoming a pre-requisite to organisations having the conversations they want to have with political decision makers and influencers.
This trend is not isolated to Westminster and Whitehall. In business, more companies are doing due diligence on the sustainability credentials of their partners and suppliers, and having clean corporate operations is also becoming a prerequisite to doing business. Only last week asset manager Black Rock said they will ask investee companies what their plans are to meet Net Zero by 2050 and threatened to ditch those that fall short. Not to mention more discerning customer bases are starting to take notice of the credentials of the companies they shop from or who’s services they use.
Earlier this month The Times reported that the Prime Minister has tasked each Government department to present proposals to form part of a ‘carbon pricing scheme’ to cover all areas of the economy, to be announced later this year. From taxing meat and diary products, gas heating, or road use – all options on are on the cards in the drive to meet net zero.
In the corridors of Whitehall, this year is a pivotal moment in which the direction of travel to deliver carbon reductions across all corners of the economy and country over the next decade will be set. Now more than ever it is essential that businesses and organisations who want to shape or influence this policy making process take hold of this opportunity.