At a Glance
Regarding climate change, the United Nations (UN) defines net zero as “cutting greenhouse gas emissions as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere, by oceans and forests, for instance.”
2022 began positively, with net zero momentum building and 91% of global gross domestic product (GDP) covered by net zero commitments. Many companies prioritizing sustainability and investment commitments grew by 11% in the year's first half. However, the war in Ukraine, the highest inflation in four decades and the possibility of falling economic growth make net zero harder to achieve.
Governments and businesses are trying to balance short-term goals with the transition to net zero. The angst of needing to do more beyond commitments and move to systematic change is growing heavier and seen as a risk. This is where communication professionals can collectively step up by helping to bridge the gaps between expectations, commitments and action.
Trends to Watch
With geopolitical uncertainty, food and energy insecurity, and potential stagnation at the foreground, the global climate summit COP27 united in the vision to keep the global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “The world is watching and has a simple message for all of us: Stand and deliver. Deliver the kind of meaningful climate action that people and planet so desperately need.”
The summit wrapped with global leaders seeking consensus on halving greenhouse emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050. Progress was made towards climate justice but not on accelerating emission reductions in the short term. There were clear gaps in expectations, commitments, actions and language, particularly between the G20 and vulnerable countries.
Here are some numbers that communication professionals should consider when tackling this issue:
- The G20 nations account for 80% of global emissions. Approximately half the world’s population is highly vulnerable to climate change's impact, with 15 times higher risk of catastrophe due to floods, droughts and storms.
- Accenture’s Net Zero by 2050 Global Report (2022) shows net zero is on the corporate agenda, with 84% of the top 2,000 public and private companies (G2000) by revenue planning to increase sustainability investments by the end of this year.
- Despite growth in ambitions, Accenture reports that 93% of G2000 companies with net zero targets will miss these targets.
- The leading 7% treat carbon, energy and emissions data as business information and use this as a basis for value creation. Their targets are science-based, have built-in methods to reduce energy use and emissions, and adopt and report against ESG frameworks.
- Kantar’s Global Issues Barometer (2022) tracks people's concerns and who they hold responsible for solving these crises. Climate and environmental issues are the third primary concern for people globally, following the cost of living and inflation (second) and the war in Ukraine (first). Although it’s the third issue of concern, climate and environmental issues are the second most important issue people want to see solved. Seventy-eight percent want to buy environmentally sustainable products but worry they can’t afford them.
- Kantar’s Sustainability Sector Index (2022) shows that 97% of consumers want to be more sustainable; however, only 13% are actively changing their behavior.
- A study in The Lancet reported that 45% of young people (16-25 years) across 10 countries are finding that climate-related anxiety is affecting their daily life.
- The IPCC report reflected the human-planet connection and highlighted that sustainable changes in lifestyle and behavior can result in a 40-70% reduction in emissions by 2050.
- TrendWatching identified norm-nudging initiatives to catalyze younger people to take small steps to contribute to bigger change.
- Sustainability and environmental issues are in the top 10 for CEOs as they are under increasing pressure from stakeholders to do more.
- Climate change and sustainability are among the most significant challenges facing businesses, governments and society. Yet in the recent #WeLeadComms Communication Leaders Survey, Mike Klein, SCMP, asked communication professionals what the three biggest opportunities facing the communication world were and only 4% mentioned climate/sustainability. And only 3% thought of climate/sustainability as a significant opportunity for themselves as communication leaders.
What This Means for Communication Professionals
Businesses and governments have a critical role to play in building a low-carbon and climate-resistant economy, and the role of communication professionals in helping to enable this is pivotal. While the numbers driving this conversation can be overwhelming, we must embrace this challenge. What can we do as communication professionals to lean into this opportunity?
- Embrace the opportunity that climate, economic and societal impacts represent to accelerate action for a better world for us and the next generation.
- Invest in understanding climate change, the science and the challenges through training and education.
- Be aware of the changing expectations of consumers, society, business leaders and governments.
- Learn from those outside the profession to bring diverse perspectives to broaden understanding.
- Position the opportunity to proactively embrace sustainability as a competitive advantage that is good for business, people and the planet.
- Step up to shape the climate change and sustainability conversations in business and the profession.
- Craft and share the narrative of the journey and vision to net zero, and humanize what this means and involves.
- Empower employees to be the agents of change in business and their communities.
- Take the lead to advocate and seek greater support in policy change to accelerate action.
- Familiarize yourself with and share The Communicators’ Climate Charter. This charter was developed at the IABC World Conference 2022 in New York and designed to create collective ownership and action, inspiring involvement and adding momentum.
Let’s be inspired by Yrsa Daley Ward’s opening and closing lines at COP26 in Glasgow: “Nothing will be saved without you … Nothing will change without you.”
Further Reading and Resources
More From the November 2022 'Catalyst for Climate' Series
Zora Artis, GAICD, IABC Fellow, SCMP, FAMI, CMP
Zora Artis a leading alignment, brand and communication strategist based in Melbourne, Australia. Artis is CEO of Artis Advisory, a management consulting practice bringing together strategic alignment, capability training and brand and communications expertise. She has served as a director at local, regional and international executive boards and is the current past chair of the World Conference Program Advisory Committee. Artis is the recipient of multiple IABC awards for leadership and communication excellence. She has judged IABC Gold Quill Awards, IAP2 Core Value Awards, the Australian Marketing Institute Awards and the global Cannes Lions Awards for Effectiveness. You can connect with her via LinkedIn.