Last month’s COP26 summit in Glasgow reinforced the global ambition to tackle the climate crisis – but also underscored the gap between the commitments made and what actually needs to happen to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C and help the most vulnerable adapt to the impacts of climate change.
What’s clear is that now the talk is over, urgent action is needed. And sustainability systems have a vital role to play in key areas, including climate mitigation, emissions accounting and adaptation.
Mitigating climate change
In the lead up to COP26, a ‘code red for humanity’ was declared by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This brought a sense of urgency to act on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Despite new and strengthened government commitments made during COP26, analysis shows that they still fall short of limiting global warming to 1.5°C and are likely to lead to around 2.4°C of warming by 2030. To avoid such a catastrophic outcome, the onus is on private companies, enterprises and consumers to take the lead on climate action.
In recent years, the climate emergency and associated business risks have resulted in a flurry of business commitments and action. This includes target-setting (‘net-zero’, ‘carbon-neutral’ and ‘nature-positive’, for example), investments in offsetting and nature-positive solutions and building business resilience and adaptation to climate-related risks. Businesses need the right partners to help achieve these targets and implement actions – this is where sustainability systems have a key role to play.
From launching standards that go beyond ’net zero‘ by requiring companies to reduce emissions each year to achieve ’absolute zero‘ by 2050; to gaining partner commitments to science-based targets to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement; to launching new tools to monitor carbon stocks. These are just some examples of how sustainability systems are actively addressing the challenge of mitigating climate change. Looking ahead, many ISEAL Community Members have gone on to set bold ambitions to continue to support companies in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Harmonising emissions accounting
One area where we did see progress in Glasgow was on transparency in reporting emissions, with an agreement for countries to follow standardised reporting practices from 2024. This is important for private sector companies too as they seek to make progress on their own emissions reductions – particularly when it comes to accounting for indirect emissions within their wider value chain (Scope 3 emissions).
ISEAL members have been active in this area, launching a number of innovative initiatives. Members have been working together to align climate-related standards and metrics across different sectors and supply chains. For example, the Mining, Minerals and Metals (M3) Standards Partnership is working on a system to standardise the collection of emissions data across supply chains. The Delta Framework is creating a shared approach to measuring and reporting sustainability progress in coffee and cotton production, including on greenhouse gas emissions.
With COP26 also bringing in new rules to control carbon markets and the trade in carbon credits, working with robust and credible standards to provide assurance of emissions reductions is vital. Gold Standard is collaborating with a consortium of ISEAL members to design guidance and systems to quantify emissions reductions from supply chain interventions in different landscapes. This will create incentives for companies to achieve their climate targets by sourcing credibly certified products and investing in collective action to support restoration and resilience in key landscapes.
Building resilience and supporting adaptation
One disappointment of COP26 was the failure to mobilize sufficient climate finance to support vulnerable countries and communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Building the climate resilience of smallholders and strengthening climate adaptation efforts has been a strong ambition and priority for many ISEAL members. For many years, sustainability systems have been supporting farmers in developed and developing countries to improve their production practices in ways that build their resilience to climate change.
Sustainability systems are increasingly focusing on regenerative and climate-smart agriculture and nature-based solutions. These approaches protect, restore and manage ecosystems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, boost ecosystem health and strengthen adaptation to climate impacts. There’s a growing body of research into how standards, certification and other supply chain tools can support climate adaptation and resilience, looking at everything from how to align climate action with efforts to transform global food systems and how climate change is likely to affect key certified crops.
Ultimately, while global agreements and goals for 2030 and 2050 are welcome and necessary, what’s needed is action on the ground right now – on farms, in forests, in factories, and at every stage of the supply chain. This is what sustainability systems are working to deliver.