'Unequivocal'. This was the word used to describe the evidence that humanity has warmed the atmosphere, land, and oceans in last week's report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Those unprecedented effects are now widespread and rapidly intensifying, with their impact set to worsen in decades to come.
The IPCC, is a United Nations body of the world's leading experts who provides the most up to date research on the climate system and its science to inform government policies. This report was produced in advance of the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow this November - COP26.
The landmark study attributes extreme weather events to climate change, and correlates human emissions as bringing them about. The findings, which were distilled by 200 scientists and approved by 195 member countries, put pressure on our governments, business, and consumers to act on climate change and limit its worst potential effects. The report will have long-term implications for all of us, our clients, and our business. It highlights the importance of our social impact targets and strategy.
Dentsu's Net Zero target is underpinned with the highest level of ambition – a science-based target, that requires dentsu to reduce emissions by the amount necessary to limit warming to 1.5oC. But the science is never static, and we will need to keep adapting.
Why does this report matter?
Climate change is a slow-motion disaster, it is incremental, and events once considered to be rare catastrophes may one day form part of 'normal' life. With shifts in global climate and weather systems, the extreme heatwaves that we used to experience every 50 years may start to occur every year if we fail to act.
In 2015, global powers came together to sign the Paris Agreement; a momentous commitment to limiting global warming to below 2°C by 2100. The IPCC report now shows that the world is likely to reach that level within 20 years, in the best-case scenario.
What does it mean for dentsu?
We anticipate a wave of policy change, increased business transition, and wider industry reaction to this report's findings. Brands must respond by proactively demonstrating environmental leadership, and we at dentsu are uniquely positioned to help lead the charge.
Every one of us can help limit global warming and take care of our planet. By changing our habits and making choices that have less harmful effects on the environment, we have the power to confront the climate challenge and build a more sustainable world. We can all play our part by committing to small and simple action that will make a big difference. We're partnering with the UN on its Act Now initiative to bring to life the actions everyone can take.
Dentsu were the first in our industry to have our science-based target validated by the Science Based Target initiative. The findings of this report highlight how important it is for business to commit to a radical decarbonisation of operations, and that targets are rooted in science. The findings will put pressure on governments and industry to set ambitious plans ahead of COP26 in November. The advertising industry's role in influencing behaviour change and driving public engagement is critical, and it must demonstrate plans and report accordingly. We at dentsu are committed to supporting our clients' activism.
There's still time to act
Scientists are hopeful that if global emissions can be halved by 2030 and we reach net zero by the middle of this century, it will be possible to halt and reverse the rise in temperatures. Investment in innovation and an emphasis on science-based targets can help us turn things around.
The UK's chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, has said that "nothing short of transforming society will avert catastrophe." While the findings are stark, they also demonstrate the power we all have to make a difference to our future. Strong and sustained action on emissions reductions can make a real difference.
Five impacts observed
The report shatters any illusion that the effects of climate change will be a problem for distant generations. From wildfires in California, to devastating drought in sub-Saharan Africa; the impact is here now.
- It reaffirms that climate change is already affecting every inhabited region across the globe, and directly links human activity to that change.
- Greenhouse gas emissions have elevated global temperatures by approximately 1.1°C and we have now released enough harmful gases to reach 1.5°C of warming in the atmosphere by 2028.
- The last decade was warmer than any period over the previous 125,000 years. As we enter a new decade, we are set to beat this record.
- The rate of sea-level rise is much faster in recent years than seen in decades prior. The last time the ocean warmed this quickly was at the end of the last ice age.
- CO2 in the atmosphere is now at a 2 million-year peak.
Five future scenarios
The report also sets out how the future could look and which events are likely if we do not reach our emissions targets.
- Temperature rise will reach 1.5°C above 1850 – 1900 levels by 2040 under all emissions scenarios. In worst case scenarios, global warming could reach 1.9°C by 2040, 3°C by 2060, and 5.7°C by 2100. These outcomes could be devastating for humanity.
- The Arctic is likely to be ice-free in September at least once before 2050 in all scenarios.
- Extreme sea level events are projected to occur at least annually at more than half of tidal gauge locations by 2100. Under very high emissions scenario there could be a rise of about 1m by 2100. In the case of complete ice sheet melt, we would see a rise of 65m.
- There will be an increasing occurrence of some extreme events "unprecedented in the historical record" even at warming of 1.5°C
- If global average temperature levels can be limited to 1.5°C, flooding, drought, heatwaves, storms, and other impacts would be less severe and frequent, affecting fewer regions of the world. We would also see notable improvements in air quality as a result of the decarbonisation of the global economy.
This report leaves no doubt about the need to act on climate change. At dentsu we are committed to best-in-class environmental performance as a priority. Not only can we use our work and insights with clients to drive sustainable consumption and behaviours, but our strategy recognises the impacts of climate change on social equity and the role of digital in building skills, information and engaging people in sustainable growth.
We're advocating for ambitious government targets and policies to support industry transition and investment, through our relationships with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, World Economic Forum and Business for Nature.
In many ways this report may be the wakeup call needed for the world to reset to sustainable growth principles and 'build back better' as we re-emerge from COVID19. We are hopeful for the future and will continue to influence our clients and wider industry as champions for meaningful progress.
Want to know more? Check out these resources
- The Guardian: Today in Focus Podcast – Climate scientists issue a code red
- Sea level Rise Map by Climate Central
- The New York Times: IPCC Climate Change Report
- Read 'This Changes Everything' by Naomi Klein
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
- BBC: A simple guide to climate change
- Edie: 5 key corporate net-zero considerations