Environmental governance provides frameworks for the complex, multifaceted political, social, and economic actions required to address the polycrisis. The urgency of the need for expedited action makes environmental governance more important than ever before.
Although ongoing ecological degradation has made many understandably pessimistic, we have witnessed major progress in the realm of environmental governance in recent years. In the last few years alone, we have seen historic global agreements, important political changes, and shifting business priorities.
What is environmental governance?
There are different types of environmental governance, but in its simplest essence, it is a system of administration and a way of operating an organization that supports both nature and people. It employs scientific knowledge and data to inform decision-making and it emphasizes whole-system management, participatory planning, knowledge management, and capacity building. Ethics, risk management, and compliance are all elements of environmental governance.
Environmental governance seeks to minimize destructive human impacts on the natural environment (mitigate climate change, preserve biodiversity, safeguard ecosystems, reduce pollution, and conserve natural resources) while addressing social issues (diversity, equality, equity, human rights, safety, wages, child labor). It does this through a constellation of international accords, norms, laws, rules, policies, practices, incentives, and regulations, as well as monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.
Environmental governance is often broken down into 4 areas of activity: protecting the natural environment, promoting sustainable development, protecting public health, and promoting social equity. Effective environmental governance requires cooperation and coordination across different levels of government, society, and business sectors.
GOVERNMENT (PUBLIC SECTOR)
Governing bodies around the world are enacting policies and passing legislation and bylaws that protect biodiversity and facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy. Governments are incentivizing the expansion of renewable energy and this trend is expected to increase. In 2022 IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said, “policy actions by governments are driving real structural changes in the energy economy. Those changes are set to accelerate”.
Governments are increasingly supporting clean energy and decarbonization with the goal of achieving net zero by 2050. In 2022, the US passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and other pieces of legislation that impact the environment, the EU is advancing its green deal with the passage of the Fit for 55 legislative package, and Japan has its Green Transformation (GX) plan. India has plans to wean itself off of fossil fuels and leverage renewables to meet half of its energy demand by 2030. India is also increasing its reliance on green hydrogen by ramping up its production capacity to 25 million tons annually by 2047. China is a global leader in both deployed renewable energy and the production of solar panels, batteries, wind turbines, and EVs.
At the end of 2022, the G7 grouping of the world’s richest democracies agreed to form a “climate club” to develop common standards including the decarbonization of industries like steelmaking. Many nations are engaged in green initiatives and according to the Office of the Federal Chief Sustainability Officer, Council on Environmental Quality, the following 18 countries are some of the leading green governments around the world: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Guinea-Conakry, Iceland, Japan, Jordan, Montenegro, Morocco, North Macedonia, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Regulation and oversight
Governments, investors, and consumers are all calling for greater transparency as well as more stringent rules, regulations, and reporting standards. In 2022 we saw new anti-greenwashing rules from regulators like the UK’s FCSEC and the SEC in the US. The SEC’s climate disclosure rules are based on the recommendations of the Taskforce for Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), and such disclosures are now mandatory in the UK. The EU continues to roll out climate-related rules on everything from buildings to product design and Europe’s central bank assesses corporate climate performance when buying bonds and prioritizes those who are cutting emissions.
Sophisticated tools are now available that make oversight easier. This includes new space-based monitoring systems. One such recently deployed satellite monitors methane pollution and another monitors CO2 emissions.
The passage of the IRA in the US shows just how quickly a country can go from climate laggard to climate leader. The IRA is the most environmentally progressive legislation ever in the US and the largest climate investment in human history. It has earmarked $369 billion for emissions reduction through clean energy and low-carbon technologies like EVs and batteries. It will impact every sector of the American economy with the aim of slashing emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. It will also empower marginalized communities, create millions of jobs, and help families save money.
“This law will reshape the decades ahead,” Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp said after the legislation passed, “This is the year we pivot toward a better future,” Krupp added.
The US Senate ratified the Kigali Amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol. It reigns in climate super pollutants called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that trap one thousand times more heat than CO2. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to radically cut emissions from HFCs and develop safer alternatives.
We are also seeing climate and environmental action in US states. Environmentally friendly governors and state legislators won key midterm races in 2022. Dozens of environmental laws were passed in state houses all across the country. A total of 24 states with 58 percent of the national economy and 54 percent of the population have joined the United States Climate Alliance which is committed to carbon neutrality.
Two years after Donald Trump was rejected by the American electorate, Brazilian president Jair Bolsanaro was kicked out of office by Brazilian voters. Like Trump, Bolsanaro was described as a “catastrophe” for the environment. According to Greenpeace, Bolsanaro is alleged to be responsible for the destruction of 40,000 square kilometers of Amazonian rainforest over his four-year term. As Greenpeace points out, rainforests are home to 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity and Brazil is home to a third of the world’s rainforest.
The newly elected Brazilian president Lula da Silva has promised to stop deforestation, illegal mining, and ranching in the Amazon. Lula has stated that combatting climate change is a priority for his government, “Brazil is ready to resume its leading role in the fight against the climate crisis. Let’s fight for zero deforestation,” Lula said. At COP27 he added, “We will do whatever it takes to have zero deforestation.” According to an analysis by Carbon Brief, the Lula presidency could cut deforestation in Brazil by 89 percent in the next 10 years.
The 27-member EU has passed a raft of climate legislation advancing the EU Green Deal which will more than halve European emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Europe’s green deal promotes a circular economy and decouples economic growth from resource use.
On March 14, 2023, the European Parliament approved ambitious legislation that will slash CO2 emissions by 55 percent in the next 7 years compared to 1990 levels. It also seeks to expand carbon-absorbing natural ecosystems like forests by 15 percent to 310 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030. This legislation will cut emissions in transport, heating, agriculture, and waste management (energy and industry are already covered under the EU’s carbon market). Two days later European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented 2 pieces of legislation targeting material extraction/processing, production of net-zero technologies, and carbon removal.
The EU has also adopted the world’s first carbon tariffs. The EU’s “Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism” (CBAM), will target GHG-intensive imports that include steel, aluminum, cement, fertilizers, and electricity. The policy is designed to encourage EU trading partners to de-carbonize by making carbon-intensive products less competitive. This will incentivize low-carbon manufacturing standards and prevent the offshoring of high-carbon manufacturing. Other countries are expected to follow the EU’s lead.
Finland is leading the world with the passage of ambitious emissions reduction legislation. Finland is on track to be the first European nation to achieve carbon neutrality ten years ahead of schedule.
With around 70 percent of the world’s population living in cities, municipal governments play an important role as leaders of decarbonization hubs. The Estonian capital of Tallinn provides free public transportation and makes space for pollinators. Tallinn, which was once home to highly polluting industries, is now among the greenest cities in the world. Smart cities like Umeå in Sweden, Rotterdam in Holland, and Glasgow in Scotland are digitizing to decarbonize. Cities including Zürich, Switzerland are abandoning gas and small communities like the Italian village of Sardinian are producing their own renewable energy.
Cities are also investing in their transportation networks. The Norweigan capital of Oslo is looking to slash emissions with the help of the world’s first zero-emissions all-electric public transport network. Oslo is on track to be the world’s first wholly emissions-free city by 2030.
Cities around the world are advancing a wide range of different sustainability strategies. Taipei, Taiwan is putting an unused metro station to work as an underground hydroponic vertical farm that sustainably grows organic food. China opened a vertical forest city to residents in 2022 that will absorb 20 tonnes of CO2 each year while emitting 10 tonnes of oxygen.
The Spanish city of Seville is using ancient Persian designs to construct subterranean canals powered by renewable energy that will help cool the city above. The Finnish city of Lahti launched a “planetary health plan” that was found to improve stamina and decrease CO2 emissions by more than a third.
The governments of some critically important nations as well as cities of various sizes have made major strides in recent years. As we will see in the next section governments work in close coordination with civil society.
Governments can pass laws and enact regulations but the environmental challenges we face require input from civil society. According to the BBC civil society includes any collective activity of people coming together in the pursuit of change. As Helmut Anheier and his colleagues explain civil society operates “beyond the confines of national societies, polities, and economies” An OECD-derived definition describes civil society as non-government and non-profit organizations, as well as social movements, through which people organize to pursue shared interests, values, and objectives in public life. In addition to nongovernment organizations (NGOs), civil society organizations (CSOs) include community-based organizations (CBOs), people’s organizations, social movements, and labor unions.
Civil society encompasses a wide array of advocacy groups and includes international bodies like the UN, charitable organizations like the Red Cross, faith-based organizations like the Catholic Church, and human rights groups like Amnesty International. Civil society comprises organizations that both influence government and hold it accountable. This includes universities, independent research institutes, cultural institutions, and professional associations.
Civil society advocates for the public’s rights, it seeks to improve health, education, and living standards. It pays close attention to economics and environmental issues and it commonly emphasizes the following nine characteristics: reciprocity, commonwealth, participation, justice, common good, association, sovereignty, equity, and accountability.
In the last year, we have witnessed three historic achievements reflecting the growing importance and power of civil society. At the end of 2022, we saw progress on the loss and damage fund (L&D) at COP27, and a “peace pact” with nature was signed at COP15 less than a month later. Most recently the world came together to protect the oceans as part of the High Seas Treaty. These successes are triumphs of global cooperation.
After three decades of climate conferences, the COP process deserves more credit than it gets. This is the view of Wesley Morgan, a research fellow at Griffith University, and senior researcher with the Climate Council. As reported by The Conversation, climate talks are often described as a “grossly inadequate [….] talkfest” but Morgan disagrees and argues that the COP process will be viewed by historians as a game-changing pivot point that enabled us to decarbonize the global economy.
Since 2015, over 100 countries representing more than 90 percent of the global economy have made net zero emission pledges and they have also increased their clean energy investment promises by 600 percent. In the five years prior to 2020, clean energy was growing at an average rate of 2 percent, since 2020 clean energy has grown at the rate of 12 percent.
The evidence indicates that global agreements can and do work. Data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2022 confirms that the Montreal Protocol that banned chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) is working and the ozone layer is recovering. This legally binding agreement has been ratified by all UN member states and recent research suggests the protocol might prevent between 1.2 and 2.7 C of extra warming by 2100.
While many expressed disappointment at the outcome of COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, we did see historic acceptance of responsibility with an agreement on L&D. After years of disagreement we turned a corner on climate finance reform in 2022. For hundreds of years, wealthy nations got rich by generating vast quantities of GHGs, now the global north is beginning to provide support for developing nations in the global south that are suffering from the impacts of the climate crisis.
Wealthy nations of the global north represent less than 20 percent of the world’s population but emit more than half of excess emissions. In 2022 Denmark took the lead as the first country to pay into the L&D fund. “It is grossly unfair that the world’s poorest should suffer the most from the consequences of climate change to which they have contributed the least,” Denmark’s development minister Flemming Møller Mortensen said when announcing the funds.
A landmark deal for biodiversity was achieved at COP15 in Montreal Canada. The agreement protects nature on land and at sea. The COP15 agreement includes an ambitious plan to protect a minimum of 30 percent of the natural world by 2030 and manage the remaining 70 percent sustainably. It also provides finance to help defend biodiversity in the developing world and reform 1.8 trillion in subsidies that contribute to environmental degradation. The agreement also forces transnational corporations to disclose their impacts on nature.
UN High Seas Treaty
On March 4, 2023, after almost two decades of discussion, including 5 years of negotiations, the world’s governments finally came together to address governance gaps and agree on a historic ocean treaty to protect marine life. The High Seas Treaty seeks to protect 30 percent of the seas by 2030 in a move designed to safeguard and recuperate marine nature. The deal replaces the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea which protected only 1.2 percent of the world’s oceans.
The treaty addresses overfishing, shipping, deep-sea mining, and extraction activities. It supports the equitable sharing of marine resources including pharmaceuticals, industrial processes, and food. This agreement also builds resilience to climate change and safeguards both the lives and the livelihoods of billions of people.
Civil society produces results
The work of civil society has resulted in substantial progress the significance of which should not be underestimated. International agreements to combat climate change, prevent biodiversity loss, and protect the seas are historic achievements that will benefit future generations. We still need to oversee the implementation, but these accords lay the foundation for a globally coordinated effort that could slow and ultimately reverse humanity’s destructive environmental impacts.
In addition to the COP achievements and the High Seas Treaty, there are numerous international groups being formed to address the climate crisis. These collectives have been called the coalitions of the willing. This includes the Powering Past Coal Alliance, the Global Methane Pledge, and the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.
BUSINESS (PRIVATE SECTOR)
The private sector has proven to be the most recalcitrant and problematic component of the environmental governance triad. While we are seeing progress in civil society and movement in government, with a few exceptions, the business community has been woefully unresponsive and they are certainly not acting at anywhere near the required scale.
There are some truly exceptional business models, this includes companies like Patagonia, Company founder Yvon Chouinard has earned a reputation as a sustainability giant even before he made the planet the sole shareholder of his company. There are others like Northface owner Douglas Tompkins who has dedicated his fortune to conserving Chile’s Patagonia region and Mike Cannon-Brookes who is buying Australian coal plants shutting them down and replacing them with renewable energy.
What is ESG?
Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors have grown tremendously in the last decade such that they are now considered by the vast majority of companies. ESG is now a mainstream environmental governance metric in business and industry.
In addition to profit, ESG is interested in corporate activities related to carbon, energy, water, and waste. It also factors in social considerations like diversity, gender equality, equity, human rights, safety, wages, child labor, and community involvement.
ESG is increasingly being incorporated into everything from business processes and enterprise resource planning (ERPs) to supply chains. It is also a salient concern for many investors and it is being widely integrated into corporate stock and bond analyses. ESG’s growing importance is also evident in private equity firms and universities.
According to research by Ethan Rouen, ESG reporting has grown from 35 percent of S&P 500 companies in 2010 to 81 percent in 2021. ESG is a requirement for many funds and Sweden recently banned non-ESG funds from its pension investments.
Reporting guidelines are making ESG an increasingly important feature of stock exchanges around the world. In 2015, France made ESG target setting, reporting, and monitoring mandatory. ESG reporting aids like accounting software allows businesses to track their full carbon footprint including Scope 3 emissions which account for all the pollution associated with a business’s activities. According to the CDP, scope 3 emissions are on average 11 times greater than a company’s direct emissions.
The benefits of ESG
There are many purpose-driven companies that are employing environmental governance practices. As reported by B Lab, companies like Change Finance believe that good governance is a key success factor that enhances a company’s products or services, This view is shared by companies like Equilibrium which goes the extra mile by addressing potential bias with independent advisory boards.
Most companies have a hodge-podge approach to ESG, while others are putting ESG at the core of business culture and practices. An ESG-focused business takes responsibility for the lifecycle of both its products and its packaging. It is inclusive, stakeholder-focused, and serves the needs of workers customers, and the community. These companies are catalysts for change, they work with others and lead by example. They are values-based businesses that are both transparent and trustworthy and they measure success in terms of positive environmental and social impact.
Businesses have a vested interest in paying attention to the ways that ESG benefits efficiency, reduces risks, and exposes opportunities. ESG helps to protect eco-system services which a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development suggested are worth up to $140 trillion a year. ESG also helps companies to identify and avoid risk. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2023 Global Risk Report, six out of the top ten risks over the next decade are environmental risks. From supply chain disruptions and compliance concerns to reputational and legal exposure, the polycrisis is the source of many very serious business risks.
ESG not only addresses risks it also drives value. ESG has been described as a “key locus of value creation and a major competitive advantage”. Research has illustrated the correlation between responsible business practices and performance.
Several reports indicate that companies with high ESG ratings have a lower cost of debt and equity. As reported by Change Oracle, ESG can not only outperform the market, but it can also build resilient supply chains. More recent research has added to the body of evidence linking ESG performance to ROI.
Investors have taken note of how publically traded companies with strong ESG practices provide bottom-line benefits causing some to say ESG is a fiduciary duty. In addition to due diligence and ethics compliance ESG benefits efforts to combat corruption while improving both health and safety.
Counting the costs
The logic of sustainability is hard to refute even from a purely economic point of view, particularly as the costs are becoming increasingly apparent. In 2022 alone, hurricanes and floods were responsible for $120 billion in insurance losses, driving many companies into bankruptcy or causing insurers to deny coverage in some areas. From extreme weather events to supply chain disruptions, the costs of runaway climate change and ecosystem collapse are devastating. There is a heavy price associated with ignoring ESG and tremendous benefits associated with embracing the $40 trillion investment opportunity.
Although cost-benefit analyses should be a clarion call, many seem to be mired in short-term profit horizons. The failure of the business community to act at the required scale has everything to do with their myopic dedication to the preservation of short-term profits. This is particularly true of the fossil fuel industry which is the single biggest contributor to the polycrisis. The fossil fuel industry kills millions each year and as the leading source of GHG emissions, it has pushed the 1.5C upper-temperature threshold limit out of reach.
The fossil fuel industry has known about its catastrophic impacts for decades yet it uses its considerable power to conceal the fact that our future is contingent on its demise. The fossil fuel industry delays climate action with disinformation It buys political influence and supports sophisticated campaigns of disinformation.
In addition to saving millions of lives, weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels will save at least $12 trillion according to Oxford University researchers, In most countries, utility-scale solar and onshore wind are the least expensive options for new electricity generation. The ever-declining cost of renewables has made clean power cheaper than generating electricity using coal-fired power plants. An analysis from Ember indicates that solar power helped the EU avoid €29 billion ($31 billion USD) in gas imports in the summer of 2022. In addition to the costs of inaction and savings from acting, the sheer size of the clean energy opportunity is an inducement with tremendous allure.
The fossil fuel industry has reason to fear ESG because they know that it is a threat to their core business activities. In 2015 they watched helplessly as the factoring of ESG performance resulted in five oil giants and two mining firms being removed from the Nasdaq OMX Group and CRD.
ESG under attack
Republicans controlled by the fossil fuel industry have waged war on climate action and now at the behest of their corporate masters, they have turned their attention to ESG. In a reiteration of the climate denial script that slowed climate action, they are now casting aspersions on ESG describing it as a ‘cancer’.
House Republicans have promised to ‘investigate’ what they call ‘woke capitalism’ and US President Joe Biden was recently forced to issue his first veto to kill Republicans’ anti-ESG legislation. Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who is also an undeclared frontrunner for the GOP’s presidential nomination, is leading the war against ESG. Florida is pulling $2 billion worth of state assets managed by BlackRock over the firm’s consideration of ESG in its investment policies.
The war on ESG is the latest battle in the GOP’s ongoing culture wars. These efforts target what Republicans describe as “woke” liberal businesses. While this may not make sense financially, there is a constituency for this sort of political diatribe, which is why treasurers from states like Louisiana and Missouri are following in Florida’s footsteps.
Mars CEO Poul Weihrauch recently told the Financial Times the politically motivated attacks on ESG are “nonsense” arguing that purpose and profit are not enemies. Weihrauch made these comments in response to a Fox “News” piece that attacked the “woke” cartoon characters that Mars used to advertise its M&M brand of candies.
What Republicans dismiss as ‘ESG political bias’ is a fact-based assessment of the harm businesses do to both people and the planet. ESG is reliant on data as the source of best practices and many Republicans are averse to fact-driven discussions, just as they are critical of common sense approaches to addressing systemic dysfunction that threatens human civilization and all life on Earth.
Despite their mendacity, Republican narratives appear to have gained traction in 2022. ESG exchange-traded funds grew by $300 billion from 2019 to 2021 but in 2022, ESG inflows dropped off dramatically. Part of the backlash may also be due to a lack of standardization on the scope of ESG, the absence of clear measurement parameters, and what some describe as lackluster returns.
ESG is not enough
ESG is sometimes defined by Republicans as left-wing politics going too far, but as BlackRock explained, ESG is all about driving better returns for its clients. This may be the crux of the problem. While voluntary reporting is now the norm, it is more often about marketing to improve sales than serious action. Rather than a holistic approach to ESG, we have piecework reporting that is largely about public relations. Although companies that provide ESG disclosures may have areas of strength, there is a yawning gulf between words and deeds.
Companies make commitments but they are not doing anywhere near enough to reach the targets they set for themselves. The issue of biodiversity loss effectively illustrates the gap between talk and action. Although biodiversity is supposedly a fast-developing ESG theme, the actual performance on the ground falls far short. According to the results of a recent CDP questionnaire, almost half of the corporate respondents said there were considering biodiversity, but 55 percent had taken no action and 70 percent said they have not assessed their supply chain’s impact. Many companies do not even begin to understand the ways in which their supply chains are contributing to biodiversity loss.
Making big promises but being slow to deliver seems to be a common theme. Just as the term “net-zero” has been used to offset rather than reduce emissions, “nature positive” is another form of slow-walking incrementalism that is ripe for greenwashing.
Drawing on new data, a recent CDP press release indicates that companies are “recognizing the need for climate transition plans but are not moving fast enough.” The CDP indicates that only 0.4 percent of disclosing companies or less than 5 percent have published credible climate transition plans. According to this tally, there are only 81 companies with credible climate plans out of 18,600+ companies across 13 industries in 135 countries. This is a decline from last year when there were 135 companies with credible climate plans.
While it is true that companies like Patagonia exist, it is in no way representative of global business. Patagonia is an extreme outlier, that does not represent the mainstream business community. Even Patagonia, the best of the best, concedes that it is a long way from running a regenerative business.
New regulatory regimes
We cannot rely on the goodwill of businesses, we need accountability and for that, we need a clear regulatory regime. Both US and European regulators are close to mandating ESG disclosures like carbon emissions, and the SEC is moving toward independent certification,
There are also private sector bodies that are working to develop sustainability standards. The International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) is an independent body that develops and approves IFRS Sustainability Disclosure Standards (IFRS SDS). The IFRS Foundation is a not-for-profit, public interest organization established to develop high-quality, understandable, enforceable, and globally accepted accounting and sustainability disclosure standards. ISSB works to codify the requirements for sustainable investing and operations including disclosure statements.
“Those not already assessing and disclosing their risks, impacts, and dependencies, will need to get ready,” said Eva Zabey, executive director of the corporate coalition Business for Nature. “This is recognition from governments that business as usual is economically short-sighted, will destroy value over the long term, and will no longer be accepted.” But as Ethan Rouen said, “I wouldn’t bet all my money on regulation coming to solve this problem, at least in the short term.” To improve the regulatory regime, we may have to address the political influence wielded by businesses.
The three components of environmental governance are not hermetically sealed, they affect one another in a number of ways both good and bad. But we should not lose sight of the core elements of good environmental governance which include transparency, integrity, lawfulness, and the absence of corruption and wrongdoing.
Governments are acting but most are still not doing enough to meet their emissions reduction pledges or live up to their creation of protected areas. Civil society has been making progress but it took 3 decades to get to where we are today and we certainly do not have another 3 decades to get to where we need t be.
There is no doubt that companies are concerned about managing risks. They are also increasingly attracted by the allure of green transition opportunities which are expected to triple from $1 trillion in 2022 to 3 trillion in 2030. While we are seeing some private sector progress, it is not anywhere near enough. There is no avoiding the realization that we need businesses to be involved, in fact, we can’t get to where we need to go without them.
“We have created the world’s problems, and they’re not solvable without businesses taking responsibility,” Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert told CNBC. “I just feel like we’ve lost the right, particularly people of my age, to be pessimistic,” he says. “I think we’ve lost the right to just sit around and say what can’t be done, and there’s no reason for hope.”
On March 20, 2023, the sixth assessment was released. It is the world’s most comprehensive and up-to-date climate report. The latest IPCC report from the world’s leading scientists makes it abundantly clear that we are not acting fast enough and we are rapidly running out of time. At the current pace, temperatures will exceed the upper threshold limit of 1.5 above preindustrial norms by the middle of the next decade. To keep temperatures from rising beyond 2.0 C we will need to slash emissions by 43 percent by 2030 (compared to 2019 levels) and zero them out by midcentury.
As explained in a March 20, UN press release, “There are multiple, feasible and effective options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to human-caused climate change” The challenge is deploying all these approaches in a timely fashion and this is where environmental governance can play a critically important role.
The scientific consensus is clear, we need to significantly expedite the pace of action. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned, “we are nearing the point of no return” and added: “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.” Now more than ever we need environmental governance. Now more than ever we need ecological governance that respects planetary boundaries.
Hundreds of companies have adopted science-based targets and if reason prevails, science will govern the parameters of new regulatory regimes. The same logic may also lead us to reexamine capitalism and consider different economic systems. According to the EU, building new conceptual and political frameworks is the focus of civil society,
Civil society has enabled the world to agree on strategies to tackle some of the biggest problems but to be meaningful, national pledges must be honored and business activities must be brought into line through science-based regulatory regimes. We are seeing hopeful signs as the US and Europe are expected to announce new performance standards, metrics, and reporting mandates. It is not hyperbole to say that the combination of incentives and regulation could augur a new era of corporate responsibility and accountability. This is crucial because as referenced in a 2022 study, the key to effective environmental governance is coordinated collaboration.