Business

Climate emergency is at our front door – and time is of the essence

Forest in a shape of world - deforestation and global warming concept

YOU'VE no doubt heard the alarm bells: earth's climate is in trouble.

In August this year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a ‘code red' for humanity, stating that human-induced climate change is “already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.”

Few reports are as stark, and fewer still have such far-reaching consequences for our future, no matter your country or creed. Even the term ‘climate change' has been elevated to ‘emergency' to reflect the urgency which now looms over the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).

More so than declared in 2015's Paris Agreement, time is of the essence for world leaders as they meet in Glasgow to agree a clear-cut pathway towards emissions reduction. A four-part strategy is being brought forward by the UK and Italian governments, co-hosts of COP26, which ranges from strengthening climate change adaptation on a global scale to enhancing international collaboration on energy transition, inclusive of clean road transport and safeguarding the natural environment.

We have a responsibility at every level, from government to grassroot, to respond. No home or business is immune to the climate emergency, and this Herculean challenge calls for innovative solutions if we are to reduce our collective carbon footprint. Solutions like direct carbon capture, electrification and increased funding into renewables – wind, solar, hydro – continue to be the big-ticket items for businesses.

Indeed every company, regardless of size or stature, has a responsibility to take strides towards sustainability, whether that be through a cycle to work scheme, investing in green office solutions like LED bulbs and reusable mugs, or standing down those devices on standby. Similarly, on an individual level, greener forms of travel, upcycling clothes and reducing food wastage at home are small steps that, with widespread adoption, can go an awful long way towards alleviating the stress on planet Earth.

Imagine your household waste, rather than being collected, gathered in your back garden for a fortnight. A pile of rubbish towering towards the sky, our consumption and subsequent wastage laid bare. We'd quickly rethink the goods coming in and out of our homes, and the culture of excess – out with the old, in with the new – that was, for many years, so normalised in the western world. A carbon footprint can't be left behind so easily.

Environmental recovery is a long-term endeavour, but it can be achieved through wholesale strategy which in turn enables tangible action.

Cast your mind back to the 1970s, when scientists first noticed a thinning of the ozone layer – specifically over Antarctica, where Earth's desert of ice was left vulnerable to sunlight and the warming effects of solar radiation. Without its natural sunscreen, the south pole was fast becoming an endangered corner of our planet, and governments at the time mobilised to identify the primary culprit: chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a chemical compound that was then present in everything from aerosol cans to refrigerators to cleaning solvents.

Such was the lasting impact of CFCs on Earth's atmosphere that, by the mid-1980s, scientists feared the worst. Without intervention, the ozone layer over Antarctica was on track to be completely eradicated within the next few decades and with frightening consequences. But history tells us that the world responded.

What followed was a rapid phaseout of CFCs, with consumer boycotts, political action, and an international treaty we now know to be the Montreal Protocol. Coupled with significant investment in cleaner technologies, humanity effectively steered away from an environmental crisis, with experts now estimating that the ozone layer is on track to heal completely by 2050. A timely example of wholesale strategy yielding long-term environmental change.

COP-26 stands as an opportunity to galvanise countries as we unite towards a common goal. The days of preaching the incomprehensible to the indifferent are over. Confronted by an inconvenient truth and its devastating, long-lasting effects on our planet, we need a collective effort just as we did in the 1970s.

On a local level, we've seen and indeed felt the climate emergency at our front door. In summer 2021, Northern Ireland recorded its highest-ever temperature not once, not twice, but three times in the space of a week. Not a fortnight later and those same areas experienced flash flooding.

These extreme weather events are becoming all the more common, on a local and global level, drawing a stark red line under the need for a comprehensive strategy, equitable in its global rollout and effective in its delivery.

Only then can the sound of alarm bells be replaced by the winds of change.

:: Claire Aiken is managing director of public relations and public affairs company Aiken

:: Next week: Andrew Webb

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