Co-operatives react to IPCC Climate Report

Climate change is ‘widespread, rapid, and intensifying’. How are co-ops reacting?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent assessment report, published on Monday 9 August, concluded unequivocally that the current climate crisis is caused by human activities and is already affecting every corner of the planet’s land, air and sea.

Produced by the world’s top scientists and signed off by all the world’s governments, the report concluded that climate change is “widespread, rapid, and intensifying” and warned that 1C of heating has already occurred, getting perilously close to the 1.5C danger limit agreed in the Paris climate deal. This is caused by forest destruction, greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and other human activities, the report says. Carbon dioxide levels in the air are now at their highest point for at least 2 million years, and the extreme heatwaves and heavy rains that have been increasing are set to continue. 

The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, said: “Today’s IPCC Working Group 1 Report is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable.” 

But he said there is still hope – which lies in working together, collaborating, and co-operating. “The solutions are clear,” he said. “Inclusive and green economies, prosperity, cleaner air and better health are possible for all if we respond to this crisis with solidarity and courage. All nations, especially the G20 and other major emitters, need to join the net-zero emissions coalition and reinforce their commitments with credible, concrete and enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions and policies before COP26 in Glasgow. We need immediate action on energy.”

‘Changing’ by Alisa Singer

The UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), is taking place in Glasgow on 1-12 November, and aims to “bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change”. 

Mr Guterres added: “There is a clear moral and economic imperative to protect the lives and livelihoods of those on the front lines of the climate crisis […] We owe this to the entire human family, especially the poorest and most vulnerable communities and nations that are the hardest hit despite being least responsible for today’s climate emergency.”

This sentiment was echoed by Ariel Guarco, president of the International Cooperative Alliance. “Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible as said the IPCC in its report. But it says too that human actions still have ‘the potential to determine the future course of climate’,” he said. 

“As a generation, we have the duty to transform the way we produce and consume towards socially, economically and environmentally sustainable models. Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities and can help make the needed shift. In co-operatives, the production and consumption are done putting the people and the environment at the centre.”

Rose Marley, chief executive of Co-operatives UK (the business network for UK co-ops) called the report “sobering reading”. 

“It’s clear ‘business as usual’ is not a viable response to the climate emergency,” she said. “Global government action is needed, but we don’t have to wait. Businesses – and indeed every single one of us – can take action today to reduce our carbon footprint. Many of our co-operative members are already making changes – from The Co-op Group developing the first compostable plastic bag to Greencity Wholefoods trialling deliveries by electric trike to reduce diesel emissions. We want to see all businesses, from PLCs to community businesses, following suit to take action for climate change.”

Carbon dioxide levels in the air are now at their highest point for at least 2 million years, and the extreme heatwaves and heavy rains that have been increasing are set to continue.

So what does the report mean for co-ops?

The findings of the Climate Report affect co-ops around the world in different ways. For producer co-ops, it is a stark reminder of the fragility of the environment on which crops and livestock depend; for retail co-ops, it highlights the critical importance of their action on supply chains and sustainability; and for energy co-ops, it shows the enormity of the task ahead. 

“Today’s report is unequivocal in its findings, highlighting how climate change is threatening every aspect of our lives – our economy, our prosperity and our wellbeing,” said Gemma Lacey, director of sustainability and communications at Southern Co-operative. “But if we act now, we can put things right. We all need to step up and play our part in halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, with targets rooted in science and we must act to restore nature and our natural environment.”

She added: “Co-operation and collaboration will be key – now is the time for thinking and talking about how we as individuals, organisations and a co-operative community can do more to work together to create a sustainable future. By sharing our plans, progress and solutions we can use our collective voice and actions to help drive the wide-scale change needed.”

Solar PV panels at Southern’s Clanfield store

In June, Southern published climate plans that were praised as ‘ambitious’ by a collaboration of world-leading environmental organisations, the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi). The targets include commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that fall under its operational control (such as electricity, gas, fuel and emissions associated with refrigeration) by 50% by 2030 from a 2019 base year and to reduce emissions from managed trading businesses 17% over the same target period. Southern has previously reduced its business carbon footprint by 27% between 2012 and 2019.

This year the Co-op Group also published ambitious targets in a 10-Point Climate Plan to drive its goal of net-zero emissions by 2040 – and its goal of being the first supermarket in the world to sell fully carbon-neutral own brand food and drink by 2025. “This is a hugely significant year and the world will be watching as the UK government hosts the largest climate change conference ever (COP-26),” said Co-op Food CEO, Jo Whitfield, at the time. “Just as the government must be ambitious in delivering against its own commitments, we must all be bold and take collective action to tackle climate change.”

Related … Co-op Power – the business energy buying group operated by the Co-op Group – is looking to increase its purchasing of wind and solar.

Commenting on the IPCC report, Barry Clavin, sustainability lead at the Co-op Group said: “We welcome [this report] as a sobering reminder of the challenges we face but also as an indicator of the opportunity that we still have to avoid some of the worst impacts. 

“As part of our new 10-Point Climate Plan we’re committed to reduce our total emissions as quickly as possible and to achieve net-zero by 2040, 10 years ahead of international agreements. We’re also committed to working co-operatively across sectors, and with governments, NGOs and consumers because the vast changes that are required at pace are about ensuring that we can protect our environment and to give current and future generations a half-decent chance for a fairer and more sustainable world.”

Powering change for good 

The energy sector is a key contributor to climate change, accounting for more than two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions. Community and co-operative energy organisations have been key drivers in promoting and establishing renewable energy sources, but the report shows a long and difficult road ahead, with action needed immediately. 

“The IPCC Report shows us above all that there is no time to waste,” said Emma Bridge, chief executive of Community Energy England. “We can limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, but to do that we need to act now. As an IPCC member state, the UK government has endorsed the report’s findings, so must now act with greatly increased urgency and effectiveness. Net Zero will only be achieved if everybody is actively engaged in creating and adopting climate solutions. Community energy is essential to that engagement and to local action on Net Zero. With COP26 on the horizon, the government must actively enable the potential of community energy by providing the sector with real support.”

Related … Small scale, big change: Community Energy Conference plans the renewables revolution

Dirk Vansintjan, president of REScoop (the European federation of citizen energy co-operatives), also highlighted the vital need to act quickly. “The new ICPP report reveals once more that the next couple of years will be crucial if we are to address the climate crisis,” he said. “We need to see radical changes in the way energy is generated and used. Citizen support will be critical in achieving that transition, and co-operatives are the best way we know of mobilising them.”

Solar panels on the roof of a German kindergarten building: ‘Citizen support will be critical in achieving that transition, and co-operatives are the best way we know of mobilising them’

Mr Vansintjan added: “The climate situation is urgent, the need for action never greater. With the new EU directives featured in the Clean Energy for All Europeans legislative package (CEP), everything has been put in place for member states to develop enabling frameworks through which energy communities can thrive and prosper. Unfortunately, the new draft guidelines on state aid for climate, environmental protection and energy (CEEAG) do little to align with that approach. The CEEAG needs to provide clear and positive guidance so that member states are able to innovate in designing RES support schemes that can help jump-start community ownership of renewables production in their energy markets.”

Related… Rural electric co-ops in the USA which are trying to leave the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association so they can source cleaner energy have been told it will cost them billions of dollars in exit fees.

In the UK, Midcounties Cooperative has introduced a range of measures to reduce its carbon footprint in its different businesses (including food, pharmacy, funeralcare, childcare, and utilities) – and through its Co-op Energy business, has been a long-standing supporter of community power. 

“We support more than 100 renewable community energy projects across the UK, enabling our members and customers to live low carbon and socially responsible lifestyles through the Co-op Energy Co-op Community Power tariff,” said Mike Pickering, co-operative social responsibility manager at Midcounties. “We’re also working with co-ops around the world to make a positive difference, supporting Fairtrade and initiatives in areas where people are already profoundly feeling the effects of climate change in their daily lives.”

He highlighted that while the IPCC report lays bare the extent of the climate emergency we face, it also shows that if we work together now to reduce emissions we can still prevent the worst impacts of climate change. “This has long been a focus for co-ops, and we know it’s a priority for our members, colleagues and customers,” he said. “We know through our co-operative values that by working in partnership with others we can make an even bigger difference.

“It is vital that today’s report acts as a wake-up call for everyone, and at Midcounties we stand ready to work with other co-ops across the UK and around the world to go further and faster in our efforts to create a sustainable future for all.”