November 07, 2022
The whipsaw climate-related challenges we battle from season to season across the world are as complex as they are interconnected. As developed nations fill the atmosphere with carbon dioxide from fossil fuel energy plants and combustible engines, the primary carbon sinks on the ground – forests, soil, and the oceans – are overwhelmed and under attack.
Deforestation of the rainforests not only eliminate those critical carbon sinks but unleash the massive amounts of stored-up CO2 they hold. It’s estimated that between 17 and 20% of the Amazon, which is said to hold 123 billion tons of carbon, has been destroyed in the last 50 years, largely at the hands of methane-producing cattle ranching, soy bean farming, and mining. According to USAID, “…deforestation and the conversion of forested lands to grow other commodities or to raise livestock contributes nearly 1.5 gigatons of carbon annually.”
And in the ocean, the planet’s largest carbon sink, the phytoplankton we rely on to trap and absorb carbon are choking on microplastics from the more than 8 million tons of plastic we dump into the oceans each year.
In the last 12 months, alone, since the signing of the Glasgow Climate Pact at COP26, the world has been battered by searing heatwaves, drought, wildfire, and flooding all of which has cost lives, destroyed agriculture, stressed energy production and water supplies, and left locales in ruins. And as two Atlantic storms strengthened into somewhat rare November hurricanes last week, we brace again for more challenge.
This is the backdrop for COP27, the next United Nations Climate Change Conference set to begin in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt November 6. Delegates from approximately 200 nations will convene for the 27th time to discuss, yet again, ways to help combat the climate crisis and keep the average global temperature from rising more than 1.5C.
But against such an extreme backdrop, this year’s meeting must be different. The crisis is simply too big for any single country, industry, company, or people, to make a difference. There’s power in partnership and COP27 calls for urgent, intense collaboration.
I had the honor of hosting an intimate event at COP26 in Glasgow to share Hitachi Vantara’s, as well as our parent company, Hitachi’s, commitment to achieving carbon neutrality from all our businesses by 2030, and from everyone with whom we do business by 2050. Spending time at the conference to focus on the topic with so many bright and eager minds was invigorating and promising.
And although I agree with observers that the conference fell far short of expectations, I was encouraged by some of the outcome-centric conversations that took place outside the halls of the conference, where more than 100 countries, for example, committed to ending deforestation by 2030; and where the U.S. and China announced a joint declaration to work collaborate on the ‘existential’ climate crisis. To that extent, it’s clear there’s not only room, but an opportunity for the UN to invite more external voices into the conference to infuse more ideas and provide a much-needed balance.
My hope is that COP27 picks up where that spirit of collaboration and partnership left off. Perhaps delegates can advance it even further to begin sharing and learning best practices from each other. Consider MIT Technology Review’s second Green Future Index 2022, which ranks 76 nations and territories on their “ability to develop a sustainable low-carbon future,” that was published in April. The study ranked Iceland, Denmark, Netherlands, UK, and Norway, as the top five nations, with the US coming in at 21, China 26, and India 42. I think it’s reasonable to suggest that we should be learning from those who’ve figured certain things out.
And of course, the private sector need not wait for COP results and new regulations to act. We as an entity, an ecosystem of the economies of the world, have a responsibility to collaborate with partners, customers, and governments to reduce and eliminate our carbon emissions, to increase our use of renewables, and insist that our supply chains are aligned with our missions. Here too, we must work together.
My team and I actively engage with the ESG and sustainability leaders at our customers to understand their goals and aspirations, their challenges, and explore opportunities. We also routinely partner with Hitachi member companies like Hitachi Energy and Hitachi Rail to solve big problems. We’ve worked together to help the UK with its goal of generating 40 GW of offshore wind and interconnecting its energy systems with mainland Europe, and we’ve aided the non-profit, Rainforest Connection, which is helping officials in rainforests across the world detect illegal logging and poaching, long before a chainsaw is ever pulled.
We do it all by leaning on data. As mentioned, the climate challenges we face are insidiously interconnected and rooted in man-made decisions. At Hitachi Vantara, we believe data-driven decisions will help nations and industries connect the dots of progress and lift us from these crises.
This isn’t a new concept. Data science and environmental science have been intrinsically connected for years. Data is what alerted researchers to the deadly course of the climate decades ago. It’s time now to join together to lean on data and begin acting on change.
To be sure, the environmental disasters that have followed COP26, from extended triple-digit heatwaves and devastating flooding to wildfires and drought, have not been lost on the UN. Although, the COP committee has agreed that carbon emissions globally must be cut in half by 2030, it said emissions are actually “on track to rise 14%.” António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, has called on leaders to act on what he described as the immediate “triple threat” to food, energy, and finance, especially with respect to the most vulnerable, developing communities hit hardest by climate change. And in no uncertain terms, he called on industry to end its “fossil fuel addiction” and to once and for all commit to phasing out coal and investing in renewables.
As the world turns its attention to COP27, our hope is that such urgency compels even greater, more intense partnership and collaboration for workable solutions. It’s what’s needed and needed now.Gajen Kandiah is CEO, Hitachi Vantara. Related