Accountability for a just transition: COP27 must look beyond emissions
By Margherita Barbieri (GRI Topic Standards Manager) and Noora Puro (GRI Sector Standards Manager)
In the heat of Sharm El Sheikh, discussions start on 6 November that will determine how, over the next years, we address the defining challenge of our time: climate change. The latest United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) brings together political and business leaders, activists, civil society groups, international organizations and others, to set commitments that can quicken the action and adaptation needed to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
The context for COP27 could not be more urgent, as the latest IPCC report sets out in stark terms. Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption, to the environment and countless people around the world. Increased heatwaves, droughts and floods are already a reality.
These extremes are causing cascading affects that have exposed millions of people to health risks, and acute food and water insecurity, especially in developing and emerging economies.
These crises are inter-connected and those affected most are often the least to blame. For example, World Resources Institute analysis shows that, while many parts of Africa are at the forefront of climate change impacts, the continent accounts for only 3% of global CO2 emissions.
Prioritizing adaptation that protects the most vulnerable
How we address these challenges require holistic thinking, long-term strategies and clear accountability, to prevent and alleviate negative impacts. We cannot achieve that without widespread and comprehensive reporting by organizations on their climate impacts.
As UN Secretary-General António Guterres has set out, greater leadership is needed from governments and businesses, warning that efforts to keep the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels is “on life support”. And so, with good reason, the focus of reporting has been mostly on emissions, with widespread commitments by companies to reach ‘net-zero’ targets.
Yet focus on emissions reductions alone is not enough. If we are to avoid further escalation and consolidation of crises, we urgently need transparency and accountability on how a low-carbon transition, which supports the needs of workers and communities, is being prioritized.
Beyond this, organizations need to explain how their strategies and business practices alleviate the impacts of climate change on those around them. To this end, there are growing demands on companies to help the communities directly affected by their activities to become more resilient against the impacts of climate change.
Clarity on the climate data that matters most
At GRI, we urge all organizations to disclose their impacts on the planet, because transparency — through quality, comparable information — is an essential stage in identifying where responsibilities lie and contributing to global solutions to the climate crisis. Sustainability reporting can be a driver for better environmental performance. However, companies are not always reporting the data that matters most.
That is why, as the most widely adopted standard-setter for sustainability impacts, we convene stakeholders across the board in our standards development, to determine best practice. This is the approach we will again follow as we get ready for a major update of GRI climate-related standards.
A review will launch in 2023 and cover not only commitments and actions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but also how to ensure a holistic view on adaptation and resilience to climate change. This will account for the physical impacts of climate change as well as the low-carbon transition on workers and communities. A key consideration here will be to connect the climate standards review to our current revision program for labor-related reporting.
Demands for more clarity and consistency on the most relevant climate-related impacts of organizations, from the local to the global levels, has been a key learning from our Sector Program.
This is particularly evident in the Sector Standards for oil and gas (GRI 11) and coal (GRI 12). Alongside steps to mitigate emissions, these standards have extensive focus on achieving a just transition. The new Agriculture, Aquaculture & Fishing Standard (GRI 13), meanwhile, gives attention to how organizations enable adaptation and protect critical sources of food.
Our revision of the Biodiversity Standard (GRI 304) has shone a light on the inter-relations between the climate and biodiversity crises. This process is at an advanced stage — and the exposure draft for the revised Biodiversity Standard is expected to be released for public comment early December (during the UN Biodiversity COP 15). This updated standard will closely intersect with our work on climate standards.
‘Double materiality’ in climate disclosure
As demonstrated by our multi-stakeholder engagement, we believe standard-setting should not happen in isolation. To that end, our review of climate standards will not only build on our wider program to develop the GRI Standards, it will also see collaboration and alignment with the climate standards under development by the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) and the recommendations of the TCFD, as well as new EU standards under the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive.
GRI reporting is focussed on impact materiality — in terms of how the organization impacts on people and planet.
We will ensure our updated climate standard(s) complement the financial materiality disclosures in the proposed ISSB standards, reflecting our commitment to a global comprehensive reporting regime in which impact and financial disclosure are on an equal footing.
When it comes to climate reporting, the interrelationship between impact on the organization and impact on the outside world is clear to see. Taken together, this ‘double materiality’ perspective — with both the inside-out and outside-in viewpoints taken into account — will be crucial in driving accountability for climate impacts.
On the ground at COP27
Together with partners, GRI is co-hosting two events at COP27, under the theme Towards a Global Comprehensive Climate Reporting System. The first event (Green Zone, 9 November) explores a vision for regional businesses, while the second event (Blue Zone, 11 November) will see GRI and the IFRS Foundation discuss the challenge from the perspective of financial and business leaders.
We are keen to hear from a multitude of stakeholders on their climate reporting needs and expectations — including current gaps — so all voices are heard as we move the review process for our climate standards forward. To this end, we will both be in attendance and available for meetings with stakeholders in the second week of COP27, to gain early input on what impact-focused climate standards should look like. If you are traveling to Egypt, feel free to reach out to us and arrange a meeting to discuss the future of GRI climate reporting.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Margherita Barbieri is a manager in the GRI Topic Standards Team, where she is leading the project to create climate change standard(s). Before joining GRI, Margherita worked in the food and beverage industry, specializing in marketing and sustainability. She also led the World Economic Forum circular economy initiative, Scale 360°, in Turin. She completed the Executive Programme in Corporate Sustainability from Saïd Business School (UK), and holds an MA International Relations from the University of Turin (Italy).
Noora Puro is a manager for the GRI Sector Program, where she has overseen the developments of the GRI Oil and Gas and Coal Standards, and is currently managing the project for a Mining Standard. Prior to GRI, Noora specialized in corporate and sustainability communications, advising and preparing reports for multinational enterprises. She holds a MA Humanities from the University of Helsinki (Finland).