Unicef's new scheme urges businesses to go beyond simply reducing their emissions and to take a lead in tackling climate change
The era of all-night illuminations in shop windows and the open-door policy favoured by shops to help entice you in as you walk by, could well be over.
From the beginning of April, 5,000 organisations in both the public and private sector that use a certain level of energy – the equivalent of an annual bill of around £500,000 – will have to comply with the new "Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme", which establishes a carbon trading scheme for large organisations.
Diverse organisations from supermarkets and shopping centres, to universities, hotels and all government departments, will be part of the scheme. Participants will be required to calculate and register their carbon emissions and from next year, pay for the carbon they emit.
The aim of the CRC Energy Efficiency scheme is to make organisations more energy efficient and help the UK move towards the target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. But while reducing our carbon footprint remains as important as ever – we must also acknowledge that carbon mitigation alone is no longer enough.
Why? Because far away from the bright lights of the high street, in some of the most fragile communities in the world, you will find the disquieting evidence for why Unicef sees an imperative for businesses to go beyond just reducing their emissions and really take the lead in tackling climate change. We need help to save childrens' lives.
We know climate change is already happening. And we know it is children in poorer countries – those least responsible for carbon emissions – who are feeling the heat. The work Unicef does with children on the ground, day in day out, to help pick up the pieces after the latest flood, hurricane, tsunami, disease outbreak and drought pays testament to this.
But we need to do more to help these children and their communities protect themselves from environmental change, by giving them the tools and skills they need to survive. Unicef is already working on the ground to help facilitate this need for adaptation and change, but if we are to stop climate change from eroding our children's lives we all need to give it urgent attention. And we need to do it now.
So how can those businesses legally bound by the scheme help put this right? Unicef UK believes it comes in the form of Carbon Positive: a brand-new approach to climate change launched by the organisation last week to help those children most adversely affected by climate change to adapt and survive.
Carbon Positive is about everyone, from the man on the street to leading global businesses, encouraging them to take full responsibility for their carbon emissions and make a real difference to the lives of those children most adversely affected. It helps people to know and reduce their carbon footprint and make an investment – linked to the size of their footprint – in children's futures. Carbon Positive highlights the direct impact the carbon lifestyle of the west is having on some of the most vulnerable communities around the world.
An investment in cyclone-proof schools in Bangladesh for example, can help reduce a child's vulnerability to natural disasters and ensure their education isn't disrupted by storms and other calamities that threaten to increase in frequency and severity.
A contribution to help a community in Mozambique develop a rainwater harvesting system can help them survive drought and changing rainfall patterns as water supplies become ever scarcer. It could mean a child living in that community will be able to access clean, safe drinking water both at home and school, where the lack of water and decent sanitation facilities frequently restrict children – particularly girls – from enrolling in and staying in school. Furthermore, the greater our investment in adaptation now, the less we will need to invest in responding to future emergencies.
Once the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme gets under way, there will be a public league table, with the best performers at the top receiving financial rewards and those at the bottom having to buy extra permits to make up for it. Carbon Positive offers those businesses the chance to invest that extra saving into climate change adaptation projects and help make a difference. This is an opportunity to go further than compliance.
Despite the confusion after the Copenhagen climate summit at the end of last year, there is still an opportunity to help protect the rights of children affected by climate change, and to ensure future generations to come have a safer, fairer, healthier lives.
Carbon Positive offers organisations and businesses anywhere in the world the chance to help try and put that right. Please take it.
• Lord Paddy Ashdown is president of Unicef UK
Copyright Speakers Corner 2016