Image credit: Sarah Tulej

(Extract from SDG Spotlight: How businesses can achieve Goal 13 – Climate Action on

Climate change is the defining issue of our times, and in 2019 it is clear that climate breakdown and a deep ecological crisis are already underway. We are currently moving out of the weather patterns that human civilisation has relied on for the last 4,000 years and into uncharted territory. This has far-reaching implications for every business, in every part of the world. 

To retain a chance of global temperatures remaining under 2C and avoiding catastrophic levels of warming, we need to absorb more greenhouse gases than we emit – by 2070 at the very latest (and quite probably much earlier than this). This will mean decarbonising everything - diets, lifestyles, investments, raw materials, buildings, textiles, data flows – as well as regenerating our ecosystems that can act as supereffective carbon sinks. However, despite the Paris Agreement, the world is currently on an overshoot trajectory of between 2.7-3.7C of warming, risking runaway warming and a hothouse Earth. 

The ‘why’ for urgent and decisive business action is clear. This report sets out the how, providing clear guidance on what a meaningful business response to the climate challenge looks like. Which begs an important question. If the why and how (and when – now) are clear, why isn’t every business currently designing and delivering radical decarbonisation plans? Sadly, I still hear too many excuses as to why this is not a number one priority. I’ve bundled these excuses together below in the form of a conversation that can still be overheard in multiple meetings, across multiple sectors.


‘The science might be exaggerated; the impacts of climate change might not be as bad as we think.’

This is akin to responding to a medical chart showing a tumour that is clearly visible to the naked eye, and denying it’s there. Or equivalent to thinking that the Earth is flat. The five warmest years on record have been recorded since 2010, in other words, in the last eight years. To claim that the impacts are exaggerated is to disregard actual recorded data, and the expert views and analysis of highly trained specialists as to what the data of the future will be. Excuse No 1 dealt with, delivering a grudging acceptance that climate change is real, and could be very bad news indeed. Onto Excuse No 2.

‘We can’t afford to decarbonise.’

The direct financial savings associated with cutting carbon are incredibly well documented. LED lights, for example, reduce energy consumption by 60% and have a very acceptable ROI of 17% per annum. Carbon is energy equals direct expenditure. Cutting carbon saves money.

‘A low carbon future threatens our business model.’

Quite possibly. But surely better to work out what your business model looks like in a low carbon future now, and realise a competitive edge, rather than play a game of catch up, where there are bound to be plenty of losers. 

‘Our investors aren’t interested.’ 

We have already seen 990 institutions with $7.2trn under management declare some form of fossil fuel divestment. It’s only a matter of time until investors take the same divestment approach to other sectors with less obvious, but equally significant, carbon liabilities. The carbon emissions from agricultural production, for example, are not insignificant. 

‘Our customers aren’t interested.’ 

A survey in March 2019 showed that 53% of US consumers are passionate about the environment. When turning to younger profiles such as Gen Z, this figure jumps to 60%. 

‘But consumers won’t pay more.’

They don’t need to do. Low carbon goods and services don’t need to cost more, indeed, with the obvious benefits of cutting carbon in production, they should cost less. And let’s consider the current wave of youth activism sweeping the world, these are future consumers and future employees. They really aren’t buying the current excuses for inaction. The reality is that there really are no excuses for business inaction, or for anything short of transformational change. However, I think the hard, inconvenient truth, might be that there is an excuse which hovers above the ones already listed.

 ‘I just don’t care enough to act.’

This excuse speaks to the need for mind-set shift as a precursor to weaning our economy of carbon. Systems can change when fundamental beliefs change. If you know someone who doesn’t quite care enough to embrace an urgent and decisive response to climate change, perhaps ask them to put themselves into the future. Did they mean to be complicit in stealing the futures of the next generation? Consigning the children out marching today to a hot, disrupted, socially incoherent, and desperately unpleasant world?

We have to hope that there are only a few who could tolerate knowing that this was their legacy. And hope is what we have, flourishing and thriving in deep pockets of our society and our economy. This report is an important contribution to channelling that hope, stamping out the excuses for inaction, and creating the future we want, not the one that’s currently on offer. 

Download the report at