From the pandemic to a zero-carbon economy

September 23, 2020

Chief Executive, Ingka Group (IKEA)

Colorful autumn sunrise in the Carpathian mountains. Krasna ridge, Ukraine, Europe.
Colorful autumn sunrise in the Carpathian mountains. Photo: Andrew Mayovskyy/Shutterstock

Global crises reqiure exceptional leadership to shift old systems into new ones

Even before COVID-19 struck, we were entering the most important decade yet for humankind. Now, eight months into it, business and government leaders stand at a crossroads, as they choose how to rebuild economies and societies impacted by the pandemic. We must work together with a common purpose to accelerate action to create a greener, cleaner, and more resilient future.

Already life looks very different to what many of us imagined a few months ago. The pandemic impacts everyone in different ways: as individuals, communities, family members, and businesses. From human loss to economic hardship, nothing could have fully prepared us for the present reality.

Just a few short months ago, climate change topped the global agenda. I was relieved and excited to see leaders across society working together to address it, the biggest threat to our shared future. Then the coronavirus crisis hit. The pandemic respects no borders and now calls for exceptional leadership across society, governments, and businesses. Everyone has needed to contribute in the initial phase to save as many lives and livelihoods as possible and restart the economy. 

But addressing the immediate crisis must not now be at the expense of other pressing global priorities. If history has taught us anything, it is that the most dangerous thing we could do is to think short term: it is critical that we now create the future we want to be a part of, by building back better.

Climate change will not wait for COVID-19. We must not lose sight of the fact that it remains a looming crisis threatening our way of life, our resilience, and our safety. Nor must we forget about our commitments and actions to tackle it. Indeed, the next hot summer – with wildfires and heatwaves, flooding, and drought – will painfully remind us that we are continuing to heat up our one planet. 

We have it in our own hands to use the post-pandemic recovery to tackle two crises at once and change the direction of global warming. The time for talk is over. We need to act, and we need to act now. Trillions of dollars are being poured into the global economy, and it is important that this flow of money is directed into creating jobs and systems that will help us recover in a way that will benefit the next generations and the global commons. 

There have been some positive signs. A majority of people across 14 countries in the G20 agree that the economic recovery should “prioritize climate change.” In a significant step, the European Commission has made its pandemic recovery package conditional on efforts to tackle it, setting a high standard that others must follow.

No conflict exists between boosting employment, reviving the economy, building long-term resilience, and tackling the climate crisis by accelerating the transition towards a net-zero-carbon and just economy. This will create jobs today that will be relevant for generations to come. The New Climate Economy report shows that shifting to a low-carbon economy could create a $26 trillion growth opportunity – and 65 million new jobs – by 2030. 

Sustainability also makes business sense. Companies who built environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards into their business models are managing better through the crisis. They have become more resilient as a result of better financial management, better relationships with co-workers and customers, and better control of their supply chains.

Across the board, CEOs and other business leaders have been reinforcing their social and environmental responsibilities, and investors are warning companies not to retreat from their commitments. As business leaders, we need to make sure that we follow through on our ambitions, and that others follow with action that delivers a transition to a net-zero economy.

IKEA remains committed to become climate positive and circular in its use of resources by 2030, and to contribute to limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels, as envisaged in the Paris Agreement. Two years ago, we set Science Based Targets and are taking actions to reduce our climate footprint – for example, by consuming 100 percent renewable energy, offering zero-emissions home deliveries, and enabling more than a billion people to live in sustainable and healthy ways.

Governments should implement policies that make such measures essential. I am aware that this is a huge ask on leaders who are already overstretched. But COVID-19 and the reaction to it have illustrated the importance of interconnectedness and urgent global cooperation. When the crisis tempts us to turn inwards, we must turn outwards. In a time of isolation, reaching out and connecting is more important than ever. Business and political leaders must find new paths to walk together. 

Together, we must shift old systems into new, while investing in green technologies and solutions that are clean. Together, we must rethink existing subsidies schemes and find ways to put a price on pollution. Together, we must step up our climate ambition and deliver on our promise – the Paris Agreement. Together, we must transform business models, set ambitious climate targets and sign up to the 1.5°C target. 

Together, we can choose a new path to a brighter, greener, more resilient future. And we must choose it now.

This piece was originally published for the GEF-Telegraph Partnership.

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