Ben Romberg, Client Strategy Director, Hotwire Global, offers tangible tips for companies to make progress ahead of next year’s United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP28).
From disappointment to optimism: COP27
I tend to be an optimist in life, but I’ll be honest, it’s taken me the past few weeks to shake the unsettling feeling of doom I’ve had since COP27, the UN global climate summit, ended. It may be that I had unrealistic expectations going into it—that somehow participating nations would show how they’re on track to radically reduce emissions and keep the collective temperature rise at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius, or that a clear plan to phase out fossil fuel use around the world would be an outcome. I’ll admit that those scenarios would have been a stretch, but I didn’t expect to be so disappointed.
Aside from the new “Loss and Damage” fund for vulnerable countries, and growing interest in biodiversity and food systems, COP27 seemed to mostly feed corporate interests. We saw an abundance of greenwashing and corporate lobbying, from oil and gas companies seeking to influence policy makers, to weakened global commitments around the phasing out of coal use.
Changing the course for COP28
Now with COP28 set to take place in Dubai in the UAE, it’s expected to be a lot of the same. But the optimist in me wants to call for change now so we don’t get the same pointless show next year. This is where you come in. Change means that the technology sector will come together and re-evaluate their sustainability agenda to push for more effective governance on climate change. If this can happen, it’s possible that the COP28 conversation could shift.
For decades, environmental justice communities and organisations that work with ESG focused-companies have been arguing that fossil fuel giants are largely responsible for the major crisis we are facing today. Many argue that the climate, biodiversity, environment, and democracy are at risk—essentially putting the benefit of fossil fuel profit over the wellbeing of people and the planet. It is time for targeted reductions and regulated caps on emissions to ensure that fossil fuel use can be managed and phased out.
Tech sector companies have an opportunity—and responsibility—to take the lead here.
The corporate mandate
According to scientist and policy advisor Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, there are three main things companies need to do to become more planet-focused:
- Cut ties with fossil fuels – For far too long director boards and investors have stayed silent while their trade associations fund against climate action and work with banks that finance fossil fuel infrastructure. This has to change. In order to prioritise our planet, companies must sever ties with lobbyists who are preventing meaningful progress.
- Stop greenwashing – Most major companies have little to no proof of concrete actions to reach their net zero emissions targets. Many rely too heavily on offsetting their emissions, deferring real decarbonization far into the future – time which our planet is not being afforded at our current emissions rate.
- Use market influence – Companies must work to drive a decline in emissions, businesses must collectively use all the resources at their disposal to do big things and create markets for solutions. For example, tech companies can group together and partner to support regenerative agriculture by using only zero-emissions shipping or purchasing low-carbon building materials.
Marketing and communications role
You may be wondering what your role is here, and that you—a communications or marketing pro—can only have a hand in #2. The good news is that you play a critical role in affecting all three. Here are my tips to taking action:
- Tap your colleagues: Your relationship and influence with your internal public affairs colleagues can spark the conversations needed to start cutting ties with harmful lobbyists. This is about protecting and preserving brand trust—whether unintentional or not, direct or indirect, your relationships with fossil fuels can be used against you. Look at the recent backlash with TIAA as an example. Take action by initiating the conversation.
- Be transparent: Take the lead and own where you stand against your net zero strategy, if you have one. If you don’t, own why not. I recently saw a quote from Accenture that said “93% of companies with net-zero commitments won’t achieve their goals unless they double the pace of emissions reduction by 2030.” That’s aggressive, and unlikely. If your company is not looking to double your emissions reductions, be honest about it, then share what you are doing to get as close as you can.
- Partner up: You know the players—your customers and partners—and are likely already engaging in some kind of comarketing, or maybe even looking for ways to collaborate. This is it. I was on a panel with Sustainable Brands about the Power of Partnerships and wrote a piece earlier this year about tech sector ESG coalitions. Coming together as an industry is a requirement, and you can make it happen.
I’m going to remain optimistic about what COP28 can bring, because I believe that if all of us recognize the role we play in affecting the change needed, and we take action sooner than later, we can create a different experience in Dubai.