5 ways policy advisers can help achieve net zero emissions targets by 2050

A set of wind turbines

The adoption of net zero targets is a critical shift towards sustainable economic activity, but it’s only a first step. Adjunct Associate Professor Steven Hail explores five different ways that you can guide your organisation and help shape a sustainable future.

At the end of 2022, it is well past time to have begun a new era of climate action and an urgently needed transition towards a regulated, low-carbon global economy should by now have been well underway.

Granted, governments over the past several years including India, China, the EU and the USA, accounting for over half of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, have at last set legally binding net zero emissions targets. Altogether, 91% of the global GDP is now captured by national government net zero targets, up from 68% just two years ago. While not yet consistent with the Paris Agreement, this is at least some progress.

Facing consumer pressure, many corporations have at last been moving the same way. More than one-third (702) of the world’s globally traded private companies have by now adopted net zero targets, up from one-fifth (417) in 2020.

Net zero carbon emission targets by governments

The adoption of net zero targets is a critical shift towards sustainable economic activity, but it’s only a first step.

In order to ensure these and more ambitious and adequate subsequent targets are met, governments and corporations will need a team of policy advisors and business strategists who are well-versed in ecological economics to guide them.

If you are one such professional and you want to shape a sustainable future, here are five different ways you can help guide your organisation through this crucial period and ensure net zero targets are met by 2050.

1. Identify and call out greenwashing within your organisation

When investigating the climate strategies of 25 major global companies who had publicly committed to emissions reduction targets, the non-profit NewClimate Institute found that just 3 of the 25 companies had fully committed to explicit, measurable targets for decarbonising their value chain. Others had made vague statements of commitment that were lacking in clear objectives or measurables.

One of the biggest obstacles to a government or organisation being able to meet its net zero commitments is its own reluctance to put in place clear strategies and specific targets for which it can be held accountable.

Whether that’s intentional greenwashing or just institutional inertia, the phenomenon of ’making net-zero commitments without a clear plan needs to be identified and challenged within an organisation for climate targets to succeed.

As an advisor, consultant or strategist, you have an important role to play in ensuring clear strategies are put in place alongside public net zero pledges. Be on the lookout for vague statements of commitment with a lack of follow-through within your organisation, and make a strong case for clear targets and accountability throughout the entire process.

2. Use standardised measurements

When you’re developing strategy or policy advice to guide your organisation towards meeting its net zero targets, make sure you’re using internationally standardised Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Internationally standardised forms of measurement are crucial when it comes to reporting milestones, achievements and the eventual success of your strategy.

There are many different standard measurables designed by organisations such as the UN and the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) to help governments, nonprofits and corporations meet their net zero targets in line with the Paris Agreement. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol is one such widely used international standard for corporate accounting and reporting of emissions.

Adopt these standardised measurables in your policy or strategy development and reporting, to ensure full transparency.

3. Address the whole supply chain

Whether you are a public servant developing policy for a department or a business strategist working for a corporation, you can’t fully address the climate impact of your organisation and meaningfully meet your net zero targets unless you take a look at the whole supply chain.

Even if your specific company or department has a minimal impact in terms of direct emissions, you can still make a greater net zero impact by influencing your vendors, manufacturers and consumers.

A comprehensive net zero emissions strategy for public-sector and private organisations should involve multiple initiatives which address both direct and indirect climate impacts. These are categorised into “scopes” by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.

  • Scope 1 includes direct emissions from owned or controlled sources.
  • Scope 2 covers indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating, and cooling.
  • Scope 3 includes all other indirect emissions (such as employee travel and the actions of suppliers and consumers) in an organisation’s value chain.

As a policy advisor or business strategist, you can incorporate the whole supply chain into your initial assessment of your organisation's impact. By doing so, you ensure all emissions are accounted for during the development of your net zero strategy.

4. All economics needs to be ecological

If you are a policy advisor, public servant, consultant, business strategist or any other professional offering financial or strategic advice in the context of net zero targets, you will need to learn at least the fundamentals of ecological economics.

This academic field is still developing, so there is a great need for professionals who are familiar with the key issues involved in managing organisations and the economy in a way consistent with economic development within planetary boundaries. The economics of sustainability can show you how to develop clear and informed net zero policy and strategy for your government body or organisation.

Torrens University Australia has recently partnered with Modern Money Lab to deliver the first suite of online graduate programs in the economics of sustainability, featuring ecological economics and modern monetary theory, in the world.

The offering includes a Graduate Certificate, a Graduate Diploma and a Master's degree in the Economics of Sustainability, each designed to teach working professionals the mechanics of sustainable economics and the appropriate role for governments to take. See here for more information about what you actually learn when you study an Economics of Sustainability course.

5. Science-based targets and certification

If you need help driving change or developing science-based targets for your organisation, it’s a good idea to reach out to another professional body that has goals aligned with your own. For non-government organisations, there are several different certification schemes your company or nonprofit can sign up for, to help you design science-based targets and meet your net zero commitments.

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) is one of the most popular certification schemes for organisations making net zero commitments. SBTi offers advisory and assistance services as well as a standardised strategy and reporting framework for organisations that are seeking their certification.

Meeting the challenges of the future will require professionals who can see the bigger picture and who will factor the triple bottom line into their policy and strategy development.

If you want to be a changemaker and sustainability leader during this crucial time, you might want some guidance and a few new skills, starting with learning the basics of ecological economics.

See here for more information on where to begin your career journey as a champion of sustainability within your organisation.

Check our Economics of Sustainability Course to learn more
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