Written by Bongiwe Mbunge, Mazars Business Sustainability Partner
If we want to improve adaptation measures, we must change the narrative and start viewing COP as an opportunity. While it can be frustrating, it’s not just about speed of outcomes. When people convene for a set purpose to vocalise issues from a local and global perspective, it can be very productive in raising awareness and putting different points of view out there. Robust discussions are needed to achieve credible outcomes.
To a lesser extent, COP allows for a moment of accountability from year to year for leaders to show the progress that has or has not been made. There are, of course, some significant gaps, such as the 45% progress on climate action that science tells us we need to make compared with the actual level of 11% that countries’ action plans are achieving. If nothing else, it highlights that action priorities are currently misaligned. Here, COP has an opportunity to empower states to interpret the urgency of the message so that when we revisit the Paris Agreement, we can address conflicting priorities at a local level using a global interface to improve progress.
Climate action within the sustainability conversation is often accused of leaning towards social imperatives. Yet it’s an approach that considers transparency and engagement to help distribute actions required in a fair and equitable manner. One of the things that we need to get right in the adaptation model is to sweat the details so that we can be very clear and specific about what adaptation proposals mean to those who live below the bread line. What does it mean for the middle classes and the wealthy? Because to achieve tangible goals and make real progress, all stakeholders need to be considered and part of the conversation.
It’s vital we improve the messaging
Sustainability is not just a conversation for the privileged few. We need to be able to talk to different people, different cultures, and different levels of education. Here, businesses have an excellent opportunity to broaden the sustainability conversation. Most companies employ people from different social backgrounds and cultures. Plus, they have a business strategy that now needs to incorporate sustainability measures. By explaining and putting their climate adaptation measures in place and being held accountable, businesses can scale up buy-in within the workforce. This can be an incredibly powerful sustainability messaging tool that drip feeds through from employees, to households, to local communities. So the ability of the C-suite to understand what a sustainability strategy means for the enterprise and then cascade that conversation from the board room to the shop floor and beyond can be pivotal. This conversation mustn’t simply mirror what the executive team thinks but is articulated from a position of broader stakeholder engagement and understanding.
If you don’t understand the business model, you can’t adapt
When presenting a sustainability strategy for the business to consider for implementation, you need the right decision-makers and stakeholders in the room. It’s also important not to sensationalise the conversation. If you want to convince leadership to embark on a net zero journey, stick to the business case you’re advocating. Basically, what is the impact on the bottom line? It’s also about using the right levers, depending on where you operate. There must be clarity on regulations, metrics, KPIs, governance framework and stakeholder engagement plans. Often it’s a case of getting in subject matter experts to crystalise ideas and help move them to actionable long-term strategies. At the end of the day, if you don’t fully understand your sustainable business model, you can’t adapt accurately.
Sustainability maturity an issue
In terms of sustainability regulations, Europe has one of the most advanced sustainability regulatory frameworks. In comparison, countries such as Africa are less mature. It often means that if African businesses are exporting into Europe, or are in the global supply chain of European enterprises, a lack of sustainability compliance could put them at a competitive disadvantage. There is undoubtedly an opportunity for COP27 and the Paris Agreement to level the playing field by considering the maturity of economies when adopting regulations. A focus on getting all players to a similar level would stop countries and regions from operating in sustainability silos or greenwash to gain a competitive advantage.
Increasing global regulatory transparency, drawing on lessons and sharing expertise openly would help promote earlier sustainability adoption and the use of standardised methodologies and language. For countries and organisations looking to accelerate their sustainability framework correctly, incentives such as the availability of cheap finance to those demonstrating ESG integration excellence could be a big win.
Encouragement and positivity are vital to raising ambitions
A key part of COP’s role is to reflect on the lack of progress and failure to reduce emissions and adapt. But to adapt, we also need encouragement. So we need COP to shout a bit louder when something positive happens. A further reflection is that COP often lacks post-conference engagement at an individual country level. More focus on this aspect would help pinpoint what needs to be done so businesses and other stakeholders can adapt and plan accurately. It’s about constantly engaging with the wider ecosystem to take sustainability to the next level.
We often see innovation emerge out of necessity. Sustainability is no different. So long as we continue to ask pertinent questions about how we assess, solve and move forward, then we can adapt. COP gives us a platform to enquire and investigate and look at issues holistically. We must use this time to set goals and prioritise the challenges ahead through a multi-stakeholder lens. Even with tough targets, there will always be some low-hanging fruits we can pick to help our resolve and take a positive step towards the bigger goal.