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At the United Nations’ Climate Action Summit in New York this week, our Co-op has been announced as the first British retailer to become a signatory of the UN’s ‘Our Only Future’ campaign. In total, 87 other major business around the world have signed up and I sincerely hope that many others will be adding their names very soon.
By signing up to the initiative we’re committing to play our part in capping global temperature increases to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. It follows our announcement earlier this year to further reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2025, in line with current scientific guidance. Right now, all our Co-op food stores, funeral homes and offices are already powered by 100% renewable electricity. We’re also minimising the environmental impact of our products through responsible sourcing, such as our commitments to sustainable soy, and by phasing out single use plastic in our packaging. But our Co-op members, customers, and our own colleagues are rightly demanding that we do more. At our AGM in May, our members voted overwhelmingly for us to “accelerate our action” to tackle climate change.
We need to do more and act faster
Last Friday’s global climate protests saw millions campaigning for our political and business leaders to recognise the urgency of the situation. We now have around a decade to avoid catastrophic consequences to our world. And even a 1.5 degrees rise in temperature will have a significant impact on the planet. The protestors are right. Politicians and businesses need to do more and act faster.
In order to meet the U.N. pledge we’ve made, we must make changes in both our business operations and in the products and services we sell. The truth is, as things stand, we don’t have a clear path set out for how we’ll fulfil our promise to the United Nations. Some of the technology we’ll need, like an electric powered lorry fleet, doesn’t even exist. And our biggest responsibility for greenhouse gasses comes not from our logistics network but from our global food supply chain.
At this stage, what’s important is that we’ve made the pledge, not that we have all the answers. By making the commitment we’ll change every aspect of our future decision making. In everything we do we’ll have to ask ourselves what impact it will have on our 2050 target? That will create an inbuilt bias towards caring for the planet we all share.
But we can’t do this on our own. It’s going to need a great deal of co-operation and political will.
We’re already working constructively with our retailing peers through industry bodies to tackle issues like packaging and food waste. I don’t know a national CEO who isn’t thinking seriously about how to do more to address climate change. But to address the scale of the challenge we need to consider if current competition laws are going to help or hinder us. And can any single operator be expected to be the first to invest millions in new infrastructure if it results in them becoming uncompetitive and soon out of business?
We need political will and legislation so that we can create a common rule book and a level playing field that allows all businesses to drastically reduce the greenhouse gases for which we’re responsible. That includes: how we operate and power our businesses; how we use plastic in our packaging; and how we respond to the calls by experts and customers for a more environmentally conscious diet. And as we make changes we must find ways to protect the livelihoods of our farmers both in the U.K. and around the world.
Business endeavour to address injustice
This year we’re marking the 175th anniversary of the birth of the co-operative movement. We’re a business founded on the need to address urgent social issues. Throughout our history we’ve continued that radical tradition of using business endeavour to address injustices. The Climate Emergency is the most serious challenge of our age and it’s already creating injustice and unfairness around the world.
What all of us have come to understand in the last few years is that this is no longer just a debate about the science of air pollution. It’s about relationships between people across the world; it’s about how we share the planet with other species; but most of all, it’s an urgent debate about what we choose to value in life. Our promise to the United Nations commits us to the same values that first inspired us. And the more we can do, the more we can inspire others to follow our lead. We can get there, but only with a new era of political will that enables government and business to co-operate for the good of all.