Fighting the Climate Crisis with Business Action

Businesses are now seeing the range of benefits that come from improving their ESG credentials, and so climate crisis-preventive policies should be at the centre of their policy making.

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The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the deep web of connections between the business sector, the environment, and the most vulnerable within societies, especially women and children. While this decade has pushed global businesses to embed the principles of Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) into business planning and operations, the community still needs to act urgently to mitigate and adapt to climate change in line with international human rights standards. Businesses should be supported to push forward under their own initiative in developing and implementing sustainable business models while paying close attention to issues that have to change in order to foster sustainable development.

Discussing the agenda at a panel organized by UN Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum, experts affiliated to the field suggested that stakeholders at every level should work collectively to increase awareness of platforms and tools available to businesses to support them in taking human rights-based climate action. This, they suggested, can be done by sharing good practices, showcasing success stories, and providing positive examples of protecting and promoting human rights throughout business operations and across business models – that will result in benefits to the most vulnerable populations within society, address the climate crisis, while building responsible and sustainable businesses.

Members of international UN-affiliated organizations trivialized how financial institutions are starting to understand the positive financial return profile of investing in businesses that place ESG at the core of their operations, and businesses themselves are seeing the range of benefits that come from improving their ESG credentials. The discussion was organized against the backdrop of the Asia Pacific region.

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In this context, the session focused on the tools and resources available to support businesses in integrating ESG and human rights, which can be used to centralize their business models towards sustainability and benefit the vulnerable. Thus, businesses can become positive advocates and role models for other businesses by sharing best practices and requiring better standards from suppliers and the areas where businesses need to improve.

“The intergovernmental panel on climate change states that we need to reduce our carbon emissions to 50% of the current number by 2030 and make it net-zero by 2050. This would need a 5% reduction in emissions every year, which will need a complete transformation on how we produce and consume energy,” UN ESCAP’s Marit Nilses said. She further added that industries like fossil fuels will find it difficult to curtail their carbon emissions, but the opportunity will provide innovative industry solutions for zero emissions. “This will also add new jobs to the energy sector,” she said.

A World Economic Forum survey states that of the ten biggest threats to businesses globally, five are related to climate change, Singapore MNC City Development Limited’s Chief Sustainability Officer Esther An added. These include extreme weather conditions, biodiversity loss, and human-environmental damage.

“Only 2300 businesses have pledged to reduce their carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050, which is a small lot of the total number of businesses worldwide. However, it is also a good thing because these businesses together account for 50% of the global GDP. They also make up 25% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. With this decade, we hope to see more action,” she added.

Since the climate crisis has now led to great ecological damages, businesses can be seen stepping up. However, the systematization of these policies will still take time, a few panellists said. As of now, the integration of climate crisis-prevention policies is only taking place due to a ‘risk factor’, but Jacki Johnson says that this is a missed opportunity. “Growing your business with appropriate policies in mind can make one a leader in this movement. It is a missed opportunity that businesses have failed to spot. There are pockets of excellence but we have to be systemic and connect social and environmental conservation, embrace all the SDGs, and partner up to shift trajectory,” the Climate and Sustainability Advisor, Insurance Australia Group, added.

Nepal-based techie Sonika Manandahar highlighted instances of ignorance towards grassroot ‘green’ businesses. She cited the example of the green mobility sector of Nepal, where a group of women started running a business of electric vehicles two decades ago. While the capital, Kathmandu, has since become a green city pioneer for the world, the business kickstarted by these women failed to receive funding. They had started operating 700 EVs in 1995, and the number continues to be the same support such initiatives. We talk about the global impact of finances but how much of that does it reach grassroots entrepreneurs?” Manadahar said.

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Touching upon the systemic failures of addressing the climate problem, Pakistan-based environmental lawyer Ahmad Rafay Alam said, “We don’t have a single business in Pakistan that looks at climate action, sustainability, and the SDGs. One needs to understand that climate change occurs because of the systemic failures of capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy, the fossil fuel economy, and consumerism, which are behind the unaccountable historic exploitation of natural resources and human labour. Unless businesses directly attack these systems, climate change is a distant possibility.”

The panellists also discussed the role of the current generation in assuring businesses follow certain ESG guidelines. Since 70% of the population in the ASEAN region is below 35 years old, they can voice for change in how they consume products. “Millennials and GenZ are willing to spend more to buy from companies that follow ethical climate action guidelines,” Esther An added. Australia-based youth action group’s Tishiko King said that the youth promote a green culture in businesses, but they should also be involved in policy-making processes.

“Our narrative of human nature has become completely divorced from us as individuals and the world that we live in, and so our art needs to engage with the idea too. We have fundamental rights to protect our liberties but these liberties have to be checked with logical respect of ecosystems. Transparency by companies about how many pollutants they discharge or how much carbon emissions they produce should be there. We need a morality that brings back nature into the decision-making we have and how we feel as humans,” Rafay Alam said.

(The panel, as featured on the UN RBHR Forum, was organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights (UNWG), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Entity for the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP). The hosted seminars on the topic of Business and Human Rights in the Asia Pacific Region through June 1st to 4th. Delhi Post has published stories on multiple perspectives presented during the seminar.)