Climate change has been a hot topic throughout 2022, with many governments and organizations making large public statements to prove to the younger generations how committed they are to this issue. Look no further than Patagonia’s decision in September 2022 to make climate activism charities and climate-focused trusts 100% of its shareholders, or the UK’s pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050. It would be nice to believe that these changes are all contributing to a new and better tomorrow, but it is hard not to doubt their integrity.
Was COP26 just a greenwashing publicity stunt driven by the fear of cancel culture?
Greenwashing is the practice of conveying a falsely positive impression of an organization’s sustainability actions and environmental impacts, and the UK government is well aware of the harmful implications of this practice. In September 2022 it introduced the Green Claims Code to help tackle misleading claims statements made by corporations about their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) credentials.
However, it seems to have fallen victim to its own accusations. Less than one year after Glasgow successfully hosted COP26, Downing Street boldly announced that the current UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak, was already too busy to attend this year’s event, instead choosing to focus on “other pressing commitments” such as the Autumn budget. This understandably caused public outrage and the UK government was pressured into a hesitant U-turn on this questionable decision.
Swedish activist Greta Thunberg slammed the 2021 COP event, calling it a “failure” and referring to it as a “PR event”. One year on, it seems she might have been right. The UK government’s fragile commitment to an environmental convention that its own nation chose to host, only one year prior, raises doubts over its integrity. It suggests that their actions have instead only been motivated by a desire for a positive public image and an attempt to minimize the protests of environmentalist movements.
Was it not this near-sighted attitude that created the climate change problem in the first place?
Part of the UK’s plan to achieve its net-zero target by 2050 is to encourage a transition towards electric vehicles (EV), which would greatly reduce the UK’s emissions. Transport is currently the highest emitting sector of the UK economy, accounting for 22% of greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, the high costs and limited supplies of suitable batteries have stunted the potential expansion of the electric vehicle market. The UK intended to champion this area, committing to developing the GBP3.8 billion ($4.4 billion) Britishvolt ‘gigafactory,’ a pioneering example of British industry’s progression away from fossil fuel reliance. The government had promised the company GBP100 million ($115 million) in financial support to take this plant online, a significant investment and commitment toward green power.
However, Britishvolt was almost forced into administration just one week before COP27, after the government business secretary refused to bring GBP30 million ($34 million) of support forward to help with essential development costs. This is an exemplary case of the government’s lack of support and commitment towards growing sustainable UK industries. These actions really bring into question how committed this government actually is to meeting its 2050 net-zero emissions target.
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In a world that has traditionally focused on short-term profits over long-term environmental impacts, the public is now looking to its government to expand its outlook and create long-lasting changes that will help curb the country’s contribution to climate change. Unfortunately, the government seems to be failing to commit to this endeavor.
Businesses’ new focus on ESG will still drive change
Despite the UK government’s failures to keep to many of its own environmental commitments, it seems there is still hope. Businesses’ new focus on ESG, and regulation changes that enforce sustainable changes in product manufacturing and corporate actions, will still help to drive the much-needed collective environmental change.
The aforementioned Green Claims Code will help companies to navigate the convoluted environmental legislation and hold large corporations accountable for their own greenwashing activities. In a consumerist world, sustained corporation-level change will have a much greater impact than unreliable government pledges.