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Business leadership for a climate neutral economy
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28 November 2018 – Eliot Whittington, Director of The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group reflects on the EU’s opportunity to become the first major economic region to formally commit to the rapid and complete decarbonisation necessary to create a stronger and more circular economy.

The success with which the global community manages to limit climate change this century will define our future.

And to this end, anything less than net zero emissions by 2050 is inadequate. We cannot address climate change until we stop contributing to the problem.

Today, the European Commission is due to set out its long term vision for a climate neutral and prosperous Europe, aiming to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and contribute to the delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

It is an important response to the warnings issued in the IPCC 1.5C report earlier this year, which clearly demonstrated that it would be irresponsible to do anything other than reduce global carbon emissions to zero as soon as possible. 

The road to 2050 may yet seem far away but decisions taken now are crucial in setting economies and industry on the right path to make the necessary investments. And an EU-wide strategy for carbon neutrality can unleash innovation and investment that offers benefits in the short and medium term, on the way to safeguarding the future of the planet.

For many business leaders, including members of the Corporate Leaders Group, the endgame is plain, as we have set out in writing to EU environment ministers.

Committing to net zero emissions by 2050 is a unique opportunity for the EU to show its leadership in securing a sustainable future: a future that is good for the planet, people and business.

Leading this transformation will show that the potential for new, high quality jobs, healthier cities and lifestyle opportunities for its citizens is greater than ever. And the return on investment is greater still when made as early as possible; the EU stands to benefit much sooner by ratcheting up climate ambition with 2030 in its sights.

Setting a clear example of decisive climate action will encourage other leading economies to follow suit, and help businesses worldwide play their part in our common mission to limit rising global temperatures.

It also provides companies with a degree of certainty about expectations and standards for the years to come.

And with this, it lays down the gauntlet for the innovation needed to transition to a low-carbon economy. By setting out a vision of where we want to be and moving fast to arrive there, we can ensure that the European companies that take action are best positioned to grow and prosper in the future economy we will build together.

CEOs have told us that their greatest progress in becoming more sustainable – whether it is reducing energy consumption or harnessing technology to lower emissions – comes when they set an absolute target and forge a way to achieve it.

While such business leaders are taking action to make their companies carbon neutral or even carbon negative, a clear, long-term climate strategy laid out by the EU would establish the parameters for transformation across all businesses. This would then unlock a wave of innovation and prompt deployment of the many practical solutions that already exist.

Europe has consistently shown leadership on climate action – setting out some of the most effective climate policies and pioneering long-term thinking. In setting out the various options for reducing emissions as part of a long-term climate strategy, the EU is ahead of the pack in its response to the IPCC warnings.

It now has the opportunity to become the first major economic region to formally commit to the rapid and complete decarbonisation necessary to create a stronger and more circular economy. These are positive signals in the right direction of travel.

We are looking to leaders in Europe for the vision of a future that we can all believe in: more jobs, better homes, clean air, better health, restored forests and wetlands, and trillions saved on energy imports, all while managing the climate impacts that could cause chaos and suffering.

But that vision must include the tools to make it real. We need not targets but clear deadlines, not ambitions but actions, and after looking at the options, we need to recognise that the best choice for Europe is to start a commitment to net zero right now.

Learn more about the Corporate Leaders Group's work towards building a net zero future.

This blog post was first published in EurActiv on 28 Nov

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About the author

Eliot Whittington web

Eliot Whittington is Director of Policy at The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and Director of The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group (acting). 

Eliot leads CISL’s work to support business and policy action on climate change. He is the Deputy Director of The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group – which brings together businesses to work towards a step change in policy and action on climate change.

Eliot has over 15 years’ experience in working to unlock systemic change, including providing policy analysis around climate action for Save the Children and Christian Aid, leading Christian Aid’s UK lobbying work with parliamentarians and political parties, and working on mobilising grassroots campaigning in locations from Addis Ababa to Birmingham.


Articles on the blog written by employees of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.