What the IPCC report means for COP26 & businesses


Last updated: 4. Apr 2024

Explaining the IPCC’s latest report & what it means for businesses.

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Evan Farbstein

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Maija Happonen

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The sixth IPCC report did not mince words: humanity needs to act immediately and dramatically to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Flooding in Germany. Wildfires in Canada. Record-challenging high temperatures in Italy. Anybody paying attention to the news in the past months wouldn’t have expected a report on climate change to be optimistic – even so, the latest IPCC report was more dire than many had expected.

What is the IPCC report?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the Olympics of climate science, which every few years gathers many leading scientists from all over the world. But instead of competing, they’re collaborating to prepare reports summarizing the most recent research in climate science.

The first part of the most recent report, Assessment Report 6 (“AR6” for short), was released on 9 August 2021. This report explained the physical basis of the science, stating that climate change is undeniably caused by humans and that humans will have to act quickly and comprehensively to combat its most disastrous outcomes.

This report showed that every fraction of a degree of warming that we can avoid makes a difference, so we need to set ambitious targets.

– Kristian Rönn, CEO and co-founder of Normative

IPCC learnings will inform COP26 decisions

The IPCC is an independent research body. It doesn’t set policies, but instead passes its learnings on to policymakers so they can make decisions based on the best available and credible science.

The UN’s Conference of the Parties (COP) – the world’s most influential climate policy-setting body – has historically based its policy decisions on IPCC research.

For a detailed history of the COP, see the first article in our Road to COP26 series

The IPCC’s fifth assessment report (AR5) from 2014 advised the well-known targets of limiting global warming to 2°C while aiming to stay below 1.5°C. These targets were adopted by 196 nations at COP 21 in Paris, in the now-famous Paris Agreement.

COP26 – taking place in November 2021 – will be basing its decisions on this most recent IPCC assessment report. Due to the dramatic warnings of the sixth IPCC assessment report, many analysts are hoping for equally dramatic policy suggestions. Alok Sharma, the President for COP26, has signaled that he will support “ambitious emission reduction targets”:

What does the IPCC report mean for businesses?

The IPCC has sent a ‘code red’ to policy makers with its latest report on climate change. But it’s business leaders, not policy makers, who can act most swiftly and effectively.

– Tima Bansal, Forbes Magazine

It’s too soon to say how quickly the IPCC report will lead to mandatory changes for businesses – if it will at all. There is often a chasm between what scientists say needs to be done to mitigate climate change, and what changes are actually implemented by governments and businesses.

But putting aside what businesses will be required to do – what should business do?

Businesses should reduce their emissions as dramatically as possible, as quickly as possible. This can be done by switching to renewable energy, reducing the waste from their production process, sourcing their supplies from suppliers committed to reaching net zero emissions – among many other measures.

For businesses starting to think about sustainability, it can be daunting to decide where to begin. The UN-supported initiative SME Climate Hub aims to engage businesses, especially small and medium businesses, in meeting reduction targets:

For businesses looking to reduce their emissions, the SME Climate Hub provides tools and education.

Making the drastic changes needed may feel impossible, especially when dire reports are published. But in the IPCC report’s summary for policymakers, there was a glimmer of hope: 

The rates of system changes associated with limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot have occurred in the past within specific sectors, technologies and spatial contexts, but there is no documented historic precedent for their scale.

Beneath the objective scientific language, this quote is saying that small groups of dedicated humans have made impactful system changes before – but we need everyone, working in every sector and living in every part of the world, to join the effort.

COP 26 is taking place in Glasgow in November 2021. To understand how COP organizes the world around climate action, and what its decisions mean for countries & businesses, stay tuned for the next installment of The Road to COP26 and follow us on LinkedIn to keep up to date with the latest in emissions reporting.

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