“Radical change needed to avoid climate disaster” – Richard Threlfall

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Ahead of COP27, we talk with Richard Threlfall (RT), global head of infrastructure, government and healthcare at KPMG, about the challenges involved in making good carbon decisions.

IG: As COP 27 focuses attention on practical climate actions and outcomes, are we making sufficient progress on meeting global and local ambitions for decarbonisation?

RT: “It is absolutely clear that the world’s commitments are nowhere near sufficient to attain the levels of decarbonisation we need. On the current trajectory of carbon emissions we are less than seven years away from the point at which global warming reaches 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

“1.5 degrees doesn’t sound like much, but by that point four of the world’s planetary boundaries will have been breached. Worse, it is not clear whether, as we reach those tipping points, that human ingenuity will be sufficient to reverse the slide into ever greater levels of warming. This is absolutely a climate emergency, but most governments and businesses are continuing with business as usual or just incremental changes and failing to reflect in their actions the seriousness of what we are facing.”

IG: Who or what are the key barriers or ‘blockers’ to faster climate action? 

RT: “Faster climate action is being hindered mostly by a failure of mindset. We don’t need new technologies. What we need is business and political leaders to start to act like this really is an emergency. We need urgently to change the way we live, to decarbonise our energy, transport, buildings and agriculture. Businesses need to accept that they owe a responsibility not just to their shareholders but to planet and society. And governments need to collaborate far more effectively with each other and with businesses, to put in place the frameworks for radical change.”

IG: How important is it that we establish comprehensive and trusted carbon calculation across every part of the infrastructure industry?

RT: “Trusted data is the keystone of the climate action arch. Businesses that want to do the right thing can’t do it if they are unsure what impacts result from their organisation and its supply chain. Businesses that don’t care can’t be compelled without data that indicts them. Capital, employees and consumers can’t favour the sustainable if it isn’t clear who is.

“Verified data across the industry, transparently disclosed against consistent global metrics and used to develop a broader definition of company value that takes into account the impacts of a business on planet and society, is the most important lever we have to drive rapid change.”

IG: What is the single most significant action available to industry to achieve climate ambitions?

RT: “The changes we must make, to confront the climate emergency, will only come about if the leaders of every business in the sector wake up and realise that by their inaction they become complicit in the tragedy they will bequeath to their children and grandchildren.

“This is not a game. This is not a competition. This is not scaremongering. This is now undisputed climate science that shows the world is heading for disaster if we do not make radical changes in the next few years across almost every aspect of our lives. If we change our mindset then together everything becomes possible and we can save the world and create a better future for everyone, everywhere.”