GUEST BLOG: Championing collaboration to combat the climate crisis
Last year, we saw a dramatic change in narrative: from sustainability to climate emergency. Countries and councils declared climate emergencies and set long-term pathways to reach net-zero emissions; 177 companies committed to setting targets aligned to a 1.5°C maximum temperature increase.
For the first time in the World Economic Forum’s annual global risk report’s history, all top five risks, in terms of likelihood and severity, were climate-related. Citizens, consumers and employees also took much more ownership of the challenge: from Fridays for the Future and employees calling out climate policies they didn’t agree with, to a steep rise in flexitarian diets and taking a stance on how our pensions should be invested. 2020 will mark the start of the decade of delivery for the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and is a pivotal year from climate action. Finally.
Earlier this month, I joined a panel on partnerships at the Edie Sustainable Leaders Forum 2020, on behalf of Earthwatch Europe, where I have been a trustee for the past 4 years. Earthwatch is an environmental charity with science at its heart. It aims to connect people with the natural world, monitor the health of natural resources and inform the actions that can have the greatest positive impact. The day was focused on strategy and action, and together with leaders from Marks & Spencer, Diageo and WaterAid, we discussed what makes partnerships successful and how to drive impact.
At Earthwatch, the change in narrative, and the prominence of climate change on CEOs’ agendas, has triggered us to take a step back and assess how to make our corporate offer as relevant as possible to seize business opportunities and deliver the climate action that is needed (and needed fast, and at scale). Any organization that takes this challenge seriously needs to question itself on how to partner to address the climate emergency. We know where we need to get to – and we no longer have the luxury of time to get there. On the panel, I gave three examples of how Earthwatch is partnering with companies to deliver tangible results that help address climate change and embed sustainable practices into businesses.
The first is Tiny Forest, based on a partnership with Dutch conservation charity IVN. A Tiny Forest is a dense, fast-growing native woodland that is around the size of a tennis court. The miniature forests grow up to 10 times faster and can absorb up to 30 times more carbon per acre than traditional tree planting. They become more biodiverse more quickly than monocultures or isolated trees, and they are an attractive location for wildlife. A recent article in The Guardian struck me: it claimed that up to 90% of the millions of saplings planted in Turkey as part of a record-breaking mass planting project may have died after just a few months – such good intentions, and great engagement, but no results for the planet. Monoculture tree planting schemes can seem cost effective at first sight, but don’t have the biodiversity to thrive. Tiny Forests are mini hubs of biodiversity in the middle of cities, they help mitigate the impacts of climate change, support urban wildlife, and reconnect people with nature.
The second is training. We have seen numerous organisations making carbon neutral or even carbon negative commitments, which is amazing – let’s set the bar high. Often, though, the people inside those organisations are not equipped enough to deliver on these commitments. Earthwatch has been working with HSBC for over 10 years, delivering sustainability training to its staff. Last year I joined one of the sessions which brought together leaders from across the business. The ‘aha’ moments were telling, and the inspiration and new-found sense of ownership were matched with a deep level of discomfort: we can all do something, and what’s more: we all have a responsibility to drive action.
The third is citizen science. Earthwatch uses citizen science – scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur scientists - in most of our research. Engaging people in hands-on research deepens their understanding and enables them to make a difference by contributing valuable data. One of our longest running programmes, FreshWater Watch, is an online-based global project which enables individuals and communities around the world to monitor, protect and restore their local water resources. Last year, Earthwatch partnered with Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) to expand the reach of freshwater research, working with local communities to improve water management in three European cities in which RBC operates. We also want to bring Freshwater Watch to countries in the global South, where the data that local communities collect complements the national databases and helps track delivery against the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Programmes are up and running in Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and starting soon in Ethiopia.
The momentum on climate action was long overdue – let’s harness it to work systematically and thoughtfully, in partnership, at pace and scale, to get where we need to get to.
Dorothee D'Herde, Earthwatch Trustee
Originally published on LinkedIn.