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Irish businesses show ambition and progress on climate goals in 2021 report on BITCI Low Carbon Pledge

10 June, 2021

Ireland's largest businesses have shown real ambition and progress towards science-based targets as they chart their decarbonisation journey, according to the Low Carbon Pledge 2021 report.

  • Over two thirds of Ireland's largest businesses are well progressed to setting science-based targets by 2024 to tackle climate change
  • 42% of the BITCI Low Carbon Pledge companies have set a net-zero ambition before 2030
  • 90% of signatories consider climate and ESG in their strategic and operational decision-making process
  • Business model resilience (40%) was the main driver for signing this more ambitious pledge
  • Key challenges to setting science-based targets are data accessibility and complexity of the assessment
An aerial photo of a housing estate beside a large array of solar panels.

2021 sees a new more progressive ambition for Business in the Community Ireland's (BITCI) Low Carbon Pledge. Established in 2018, signatories must now align their climate action with what science says is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5°C - aligned to the Paris Agreement. This new more ambitious Pledge calls on businesses to work towards setting science-based emission reduction targets (i.e. what science says is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5°C) by 2024 at the latest.

64 companies have signed this year's more ambitious Pledge up from 58 signatories last year. The signatories span 11 sectors, with professional services firms, agribusiness or food and drink and financial services being the top three largest sectors represented. With this new commitment, businesses take a significant step forward.

For the third year running, BITCI partnered with PwC to produce the Low Carbon Pledge report, Business Working Together for a Low Carbon Future, published today and reveals progress of The Pledge signatories towards decarbonisation.

The PwC report reveals that The Pledge companies have shown real ambition with significant progress made towards tackling climate change. 68% of the Pledge signatories are well progressed to setting science-based targets (SBTs) by 2024, 30% of which have successfully set SBTs and had them approved by the Science-based Targets initiative (SBTi) and 38% of which have formally committed to setting SBTs. Signatories within the technology, retail and agribusiness or food and drink sectors are the most advanced on the journey to science-based targets.

Other key findings from PwC's Low Carbon Pledge 2021 report

  • Business model resilience (40%) was the main driver for signing this more ambitious Pledge.
  • For companies that have set SBTs, 100% cover scopes one and two emission reduction targets, with 82% also setting the more difficult scope-three emission targets. Around three quarters are set to achieve their SBTs by 2030 or earlier.
  • Very significantly, 42% of the Pledge signatories have set a net-zero ambition. For example, 56% have set their scopes one and two ambitions net-zero targets to be met by 2030 or earlier. Positively, 41% of respondents have set scope-three, net-zero targets for 2030 or earlier, which is significantly more ambitious than the national trajectory of net zero by 2050.
  • Notably, 90% of Pledge signatories consider climate and ESG in their strategic and operational decision-making process. 93% have a dedicated sustainability lead within the firm, of which 66% are at the executive level. Support from the top is critical for any change programme and these findings illustrate how seriously this group is taking sustainability.
  • One third of signatories did not yet know what percentage of their entire carbon footprint was made up of scope-three emissions. One quarter of signatories stated that scope-three emissions make up over 80% of their carbon footprint. This highlights the importance of focusing on reducing scope-three emissions which clearly requires that companies are first in a position to accurately measure all material emission sources.
  • The top challenges facing the Pledge signatories when it comes to measuring or reporting scope-three emissions and setting science-based targets are (1) data accessibility and (2) complexity of the assessment. The report reveals that signatories within the agribusiness or food and drink sector have shown that it is possible to move ahead even if formal SBTi sectoral guidance is not yet available.
  • Post-pandemic, most signatories expect to see a long term reduction in business travel and continued use of digital platforms for hybrid working. The report reveals that many signatories are creating sustainable travel policies, which call out a more limited requirement for essential travel.
  • 65% of this year's signatories receive external verification of their emissions data, up from 53% in last year's report. With increased reporting, ensuring that the verification of emissions data is robust and accurate is critical to mitigating against the risks associated with inaccurate and incomplete reporting.

Eamon Ryan T.D., Minister for Transport, Climate, Environment and Communications said: "The Government is taking decisive Climate Action, providing a legislative path to achieving the ambitious target of 51% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and setting us on the path to net-zero by 2050 at the latest."

"The Business in the Community Ireland Low Carbon Pledge has taken a major step forward, with signatories committing to science-based targets to cut their emissions. With over 60 businesses signed up to the Pledge, there is strong alignment between this initiative and the roadmap set by the Climate Bill. Business leadership is a crucial lever for change. Making this a competitive challenge, and adopting innovations like the Low Carbon Pledge will help us get to net-zero faster."

Tomás Sercovich, CEO, Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI) commented: "The Low Carbon Pledge demonstrates meaningful business commitment to reducing carbon emissions. The past 12 months have seen the Pledge evolve to a commitment focusing on tackling carbon impacts across value chains. This is significant, as most emissions lie within the supply chain, in most sectors of economic activity. The report highlights that many of Ireland's largest businesses are on track towards setting science-based emission reduction targets by 2024 and a net-zero ambition is not optional anymore."

"Businesses are experiencing the need to evolve and transform their operations to deliver a green and socially inclusive future. This transformation will be complex and challenging beyond what we have experienced. It will be costly and take time to research and innovate, creating partnerships and ways of working. However, with all these challenges comes endless opportunities to build the products and services of tomorrow, supporting a just and responsible transition."

Kim McClenaghan, Partner, PwC Ireland Energy, Utilities and Sustainability Practice Lead said: "Achieving the necessary global decarbonisation will require wholescale transformation of every sector of the global economy, unprecedented innovation and committed leadership. A key focus of this year's Low Carbon Pledge report is charting a pathway to net zero and setting science-based targets. More than 1,300 companies worldwide have set science-based targets. These verified emission-reduction targets, grounded in climate science, put companies on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent the worst effects of climate change.

"The increased ambition in this year's Pledge is commendable as is the increased number of signatories. The case studies clearly signpost that while each sector faces particular challenges when setting SBTs, innovative approaches exist to surmount these obstacles. A number of areas for organisations to consider on their decarbonisation journey include: Understand your operating environment; set ambitious targets; align your corporate strategy to net zero and obtain external validation of your non-financial data to confirm the accuracy and credibility of your reporting."

Notes to editors

The 62 Signatory companies listed in the PwC Low Carbon Pledge 2021 Report whose data was analysed for purposes of the report are: A&L Goodbody, Abbvie, ABP Ireland, Accenture, Actavo, AIB Group, Aldi, Allianz, An Post, Arup, Aviva, Bank of Ireland Group, Bidvest Noonan, Boots, Britvic Ireland, BT, Cairn Homes, Cook Medical, Cisco, Dawn Meats Group, Deloitte, Depuy Synthes, DHL Supply Chain, Diageo Ireland, Eirgrid plc, Enterprise rent-a-car, ESB Group, Fujitsu Ireland, Gas Networks Ireland, Grant Thornton, Heineken Ireland, Hovione Ireland, Iarnród Eireann (Irish Rail), Irish Distillers, Irish Water, Janssen Pharmaceutical Sciences plc, Johnson and Johnson Vision Care, KBC Bank Ireland, Keelings, KPMG, Lidl Ireland, Marks and Spencer (Ireland), Momentum Support, Mercury Eng, Musgrave Group, Ornua, Permanent TSB, PM Group, PwC, RTE, SKY Ireland, Sodexo Ireland, SSE Ireland, Tesco Ireland, Three Ireland, Ulster Bank Ireland DAC, Veolia, Verizon, Virgin Media Ireland, Vodafone Ireland and William Fry.

As of June 2021, 64 companies have signed up to the BITCI Low Carbon Pledge. Further to the above mentioned 62 companies, College Group and Compass Group Ireland have recently committed to the Pledge and their data will be included in next year's report. Case studies included in the report are ABP Foods, AIB, Aviva, PwC and Veolia.

BITCI Low Carbon Pledge is Ireland's only collective commitment by the private sector on climate action and is recognised in the Government's Climate Action Plan. The Pledge aims to provide leadership, set a collective ambition, and drive practical action on the climate crisis. It is aligned with international best practice aimed at mobilising businesses towards a net-zero emissions future.

Under the terms of the Pledge, the companies undertook to cut scope-one emissions (greenhouse gases produced directly from sources that are owned and controlled by the company such as fuels used in boilers, vehicles, etc); scope-two emissions (indirect greenhouse gases from purchases of electricity) and scope-three emissions are a consequence of the operations of an organisation, but are not directly owned or controlled by the organisation. These emission sources occur across a company's value chain. The intensity emissions are the emissions rate of CO2e relative to the intensity of a specific activity, production process or selected category (e.g., number of employees).

Science-based targets (SBTs) show companies how much and how quickly they need to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to prevent the worst effects of climate change. The Science-based Targets initiative (SBTi) defines and promotes best practice in science-based target setting. Offering a range of target-setting resources and guidance, the SBTi independently assesses and approves companies' targets in line with its strict criteria. Over a thousand companies worldwide are leading the zero-carbon transition by setting emissions reduction targets grounded in climate science through the SBTi.

The Paris Agreement requires actions to be taken to keep global temperature rise this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The latest IPCC Report has stated that a 1.5°C temperature rise is aimed for. Note: The IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an intergovernmental body of the United Nations.

A carbon offset is a reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. They reduce, remove or avoid greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but can also bring a host of positive co-benefits e.g., empowering communities or protecting ecosystems. Carbon offsets are useful mechanisms on a temporary basis to tackle emissions but are not allowed under SBTi guidance as a measure to reach net-zero emissions.

PwC's latest Net-Zero Economy Index (2020) report shows an annual decarbonisation rate of 11.7% per annum is now required to keep warming within 1.5°C - five times greater than what was achieved going into 2020 (2.4%).

About Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI)

Founded in 2000, Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI) are the leading advisors on sustainability and corporate social responsibility. It works with companies on all areas of sustainability from transitioning to a low carbon economy to working in the area of social inclusion.

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