Aiming higher – let’s think 1.5 degrees Celsius

Gabrielle Ginér, Head of Sustainable Business Policy at BT Group, reviews how the company plans to meet its bold new climate target

For months after the Paris agreement was signed, one big, nagging question was on my mind: how can a company like BT play its part in ensuring the ambition in the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C is realised? It was a question I continued to ask myself when I spoke to various stakeholders at the international climate talks in Marrakech last November, one year after the Paris Agreement was signed.

Fortunately, and after a lot of hard work, we now have an answer that aligns our future business plans with the best available climate change science. Thanks to this we have become one of the first companies globally to commit to a bold new carbon target. We are now aiming to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 87% by 2030 from a 2016/17 baseline, a level which is in line with what is required to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C.

We want to be part of a vanguard of companies driving forward the 1.5°C agenda. We know that being ambitious can pay off. We reached our previous carbon reduction target four years early – in 2008 we thought we could achieve an 80% reduction of our carbon emissions intensity by 2020, we actually managed this by 2016.  Meeting that target gave us the confidence to aim higher and lead the way, so this new target is part of our strategic commitment to be a truly sustainable business.

As part of our wider energy programme, BT has already made significant strides in reducing its end-to end-carbon footprint. This has been valuable for the business, helping to deliver £221 million of energy savings since 2009/10.  We are also well on our way towards purchasing 100% renewable electricity worldwide by 2020, where markets allow.

Despite all our progress to date, reaching our ambition will require some fundamental changes to the way we do business. To deliver on this, in the coming years BT will:

– Adopt low carbon vehicles into our fleet of vans, cars and repair trucks;

– Reduce the carbon intensity of our buildings;

– Work with our suppliers to reduce carbon emissions associated with our supply chain.

These targets, however, are just one part of our environmental efforts. The products and services provided by the ICT sector have a huge role to play key helping tackle climate change in other parts of the economy create a low carbon society.

In 2016/17 we estimate that our products and services enabled our customers to avoid 10 million tonnes of carbon, up 32% from the previous year. These products and services that help reduce carbon emissions in some way represented £5.3 billion in revenue, 22% of BT’s total. And we will continue to innovate in order to help our customers use resources even more efficiently and further reduce their carbon emissions.

It’s important for us to take leadership on climate action and to positively help and influence our customers, suppliers and people. This is why we have also been working with a number of organisations to explore how corporates can play a role in meeting the Paris Agreement, hosting events at the House of Commons and running a series of workshops to explore the topic of 1.5°C in greater depth with a range of stakeholders.

The only way we can achieve a 1.5°C world is through collaboration and collective effort. There are really positive signs that suggest that the shift to a low carbon society is becoming unstoppable, but we need to make sure that it also happens as quickly as possible. Businesses are quickly learning how to create economic value and greater prosperity without harming the planet. We would love to lead by example and share what we have done to help other companies accelerate their efforts both at COP23 and beyond. We can all set the bar higher to help deliver on the Paris Agreement by aiming for 1.5°C.

Gabrielle Ginér is Head of Sustainability Business Policy at BT Group.