We are running out of time to effectively tackle the climate crisis. The adverse effects of climate change affect everyone, and both public and private actors must be ambitious in their environmental and sustainability goals. In this context, a core challenge for the climate agenda rests upon uniting diverse interests and a plurality of identities in articulating proposals that command collective support. Could a strategic-communication perspective help us adapt to healthier habits? How could companies become more environmentally friendly? These questions guided the discussions at the recent 'COP26: challenges, goals and actions' webinar, organised by the Brazilian Association of Business Communication (Aberje) and King's Brazil Institute.
Breaking the political paralysis
As one of the panelists, Juliane Reinecke, Professor of International Management and Sustainability at King's, highlighted that, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we now have about nine years to limit global warming to 1.5ºC above the temperature of the pre-industrial period. If we surpass this threshold, extreme climate events such as floods and prolonged droughts will become more regular, thus aggravating poverty and food insecurity worldwide.
Reinecke argued that international conferences and agreements, like COP26 the Paris Agreement, are crucial instruments to encourage greater cooperation between companies, governments and other organisations, and for social justice and inclusion to be linked more explicitly to climate action. For Reinecke, leaders of developed countries should take initiatives to break the political paralysis that frequently impedes progress on the climate agenda. In this vein, rich countries need to provide support and resources for their developing peers so that they can adopt higher sustainability standards.
Corporate responsibility in climate adaptation
About the role of the corporate world in the climate crisis and the efforts needed to avoid environmental disasters, Kat Thorne, Director of Sustainability at King's, warned that companies that do not take seriously environmental, social and governance policies are at risk of losing consumers, employees and financing.
Thorne celebrated the presence of multiple representatives from the public, private and civil society sectors at COP26. For her, this is a sign that a growing number of organised groups recognise there is no alternative path if we really want to avoid the worst effects of climate change. As such, zero carbon emission targets, adoption of sustainable energy sources, actions in favor of reuse and recycling, and other beneficial initiatives to the climate and the environment are indispensable targets for all businesses.
In addition to recognising the seriousness of the threats posed on our horizon, Thorne urged multinationals to play a more ambitious and proactive role in searching for plausible and compelling pathways against the climate crisis. For example, partnerships between companies, local authorities, and non-governmental organisations constitute powerful mechanisms for developing and monitoring sustainable policies.
Moreover, many companies have deep capillarity in several countries, and thousands of employees and resources that can potentially become active assets in teaching stakeholders about the importance of preserving our natural reserves and taking care of the planet's temperature. Finally, companies with long value chains need to guarantee the well-being of their employees regardless of where those workers and their communities are located.
Brazil's climate action
In this respect, Cristiano Teixeira, Director-General of Klabin, spoke of the climate challenges for Brazil and Brazilian companies. In his view, it is critical that Brazil’s government manages to end illegal deforestation as soon as possible. Eliminating fires would significantly reduce the country's carbon emissions, contribute to Brazilians suffering less from extreme climate events, and it could even bring a needed reputational gain for Brazil at the international level.
Teixeira also cited critical obstacles facing different governments, such as decreasing global energy dependence on non-renewable sources, and affirmed we need to be more aware of the magnitude of the challenges ahead of us. According to Teixeira, our best strategy is to keep fighting climate change and steadly advance sustainability practices.
The struggle against climate change has gone a long way, enlivened by many social and political processes. Teixeira recalled important moments of popular mobilisations for the climate and the environment, such as Rio92, and stated that Brazilian society compels companies to comply with sustainable policies and to commit to global warming targets. He pointed out that even if the climate agenda of Brazil’s government is seen with skepticism, private sector leaders have aptly aligned large Brazilian companies with international sustainability standards.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has reaffirmed the centrality of multilateral organisations in articulating collective proposals to deal with global challenges, as indeed is the case of climate change. The Paris Agreement and COP26 are the outcomes of daring joint efforts at the international level. The climate crisis demands broad and articulated responses not only involving governments but also civil society organisations, universities and the business sector. Expanding communicational spaces among these actors, so that we can build better strategies to tackle climate change, should be regarded as an essential human duty.