Retail needs collective action for a net zero breakthrough

 In Conferences

By Peter Bakker, President & CEO, WBCSD

Our world is facing pressing global challenges: the climate emergency, the loss of nature and growing inequality. Collective action is needed to accelerate the system transformations needed for a net zero, nature positive, and more equitable future, and business, including the retail industry, has an important role to play.

We won’t reach net zero emissions by 2050 without a full-scale transition of the retail industry, but the systemic challenges retailers face, in setting long-term targets backed by concrete plans, are severe. And no retailer can overcome these alone; from avoiding the risk of stranded assets in scaling electric fleets and low-carbon infrastructure to renewable energy sourcing and storage.

Actions to halve global emissions by 2030 and deliver a healthier, fairer zero carbon world in time are possible, if they are rigorous and immediate. Race to Zero, the UN-backed global campaign rallying companies, cities, regions, financial and educational institutions, is supporting that. Today, only a fraction of major actors in the retail sector have joined though, while retailers are increasingly recognizing the physical risks posed by the climate emergency across their supply chains and operations.

We cannot overcome the challenges we face in fully transitioning to net zero alone. Through theWorld Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the premier global, CEO-led community of over 200 of the world’s leading sustainable businesses, businesses have worked together with the COP26 High Level Climate Action Champions and a group of companies – Best Buy, H&M Group, Ingka Group (IKEA), Kingfisher plc and Walmart – to launch the Race to Zero: Breakthroughs Retail Campaign to pledge support to accelerate a movement in the retail industry to collectively drive climate actions as part of the Race to Zero.

The Race to Zero: Breakthroughs Retail Campaign aims for more retailers worldwide to set science-based targets aimed at halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. Retailers must work together with trade association partners at the national, regional and global levels to accelerate a whole-economy transition to help deliver a healthier, resilient, net-zero world.

We’re also seeing progress at the global level with the recent launch of the UNFCCC-led Marrakech Partnership’s Industry Climate Action Pathway, which provides specific, time-bound actions for global industry to deliver on the goal to reach net zero by 2050. The Industry Climate Action Pathway also lays out a deep dive for sub-sectors, including retail, showing a systems map, critical “change levers” and a table of actions towards exponentially transforming the sector before 2050.

At a national level, the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) recently launched Climate Action Roadmap provides actions for retail brands to put GHG emissions data at the heart of business decision-making and get on a path to net zero. This includes resources on renewable sourcing, energy efficiency and helping customers to lead low-carbon lifestyles. The BRC Roadmap is a great example of what collaboration can achieve at a local level and the critical role that trade associations play in helping business mitigate shifting risks, collaborate around new business opportunities, and crucially align their lobbying positions with the ambition needed to achieve the Paris Agreement goals.

Business is always stronger together. With the lion’s share of retailers’ GHG emissions coming from their value chains, there is no way they can get to net zero on their own. Retailers will need to align under a united call to governments for stronger climate action, and back this with their own robust, science-based climate progress.

Leading global brands and regional associations need to come together with the Race to Zero Breakthroughs: 2030 Retail Campaign to deliver against a collective net zero ambition. As the Race to Zero gathers pace and signatories across industries, the retail industry needs a climate action breakthrough now, where retailers from every region do their part to accelerate a whole-economy transition for a healthy, resilient, net-zero future for people and planet.

Together we can achieve real breakthroughs for customers, employees, communities worldwide and the planet. Now is the time for the retail sector to transform, to drive collective action and to create true value.

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