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Firms blame cost for failing to hit carbon targets

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Net zero is not a priority for many firms

Firms blame cost and a lack of financial support for failing to keep pace with the government’s objectives on achieving carbon targets.

Only one in ten firms (11%) is measuring its carbon footprint and the number setting targets on emissions is falling, according to new research that is likely to alarm climate change campaigners.

The research published today by the British Chambers of Commerce in partnership with O2 reveals that most firms do not regard “net zero” as a priority and more than a fifth do not even fully understand the term. A third have yet to seek advice.

Shevaun Haviland, director general of the BCC, said: “This research is a real eye-opener and shows just how big a challenge the UK’s net zero target is.”

The slow take-up of firms measuring their carbon footprint is more acute among smaller firms (9%), and 5% for micro-businesses which have fewer than 10 employees. By contrast 26% of firms with more than 50 employees, are doing so.

Shevaun Haviland

Shevaun Haviland: eye-opener

It also showed only one in seven (13%) has set targets to reduce its emissions – down from one in five (21%) when firms were surveyed before the pandemic in February 2020.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of businesses surveyed say they don’t see net zero targets as a high priority in the wake of the pandemic, although half (49%) admit their customers are worried about the environment. 

The findings also show that one in five businesses (22%) does not fully understand the term ‘net zero,’ and almost a third have yet to seek advice or information to help them develop a net zero roadmap or improve their environmental sustainability. 

When it came to setting carbon reduction targets, 27% of larger firms have done so, compared to just 9% of micro-businesses.

Barriers and required support 

The main barriers preventing respondents from making their business more sustainable are high upfront adaptation costs (34%) and a lack of finance (30%).

Getting access to grants (28%), tax allowances (14%) and reducing the costs of making adaptations (14%) were cited as the three steps businesses would most like to see to help them reduce their carbon consumption within the next six months. 

While 13% said they would like access to impartial, bespoke advice with an action plan – and almost a third said they look online for advice on net zero and environmental sustainability.

Taking action on emissions

Despite a lack of awareness on carbon footprints, many firms are still taking a wide variety of positive actions to reduce their emissions and become greener.

Over the next 12 months

  • 54% of businesses surveyed are planning to reduce their consumption (e.g. of paper, food and plastics),
  • 47% are planning to reduce the energy they use through travel
  • 40% are planning to reduce the energy used at their offices and premises.
  • Of those looking to take action, eight in ten (79%) cite concern about the environment as the motivating factor, followed by efficiency gains or cost savings (cited by 59%).

In response to the findings, the British Chambers of Commerce and O2 have today launched a free online hub to help businesses find out how to measure their carbon footprint, set targets and develop an overall net zero strategy.

Jo Bertram, managing director, business & wholesale at Virgin Media O2 said: “In May, the Government called on small businesses to lead the charge and pledge to reach net zero by 2050 or sooner, but our research shows that to do this, they need more support.

“From micro-businesses to larger firms, SMBs have told us they’re concerned about the environment, but in the wake of lockdowns and growing economic pressures, the majority are understandably facing barriers to improving their sustainability.”

Shevaun Haviland, director general of the BCC, said: “This research is a real eye-opener and shows just how big a challenge the UK’s net zero target is.

“The dual impacts of the pandemic and Brexit have been a huge body-blow to many businesses, so it’s unsurprising that targeting emissions has taken a back seat.

“But change has to come, and our Net Zero Hub makes clear that the earlier firms adapt then the greater the advantages will be – they cannot afford to get left behind.

“The climate challenge is one that affects every single one of us and business has a big part to play in tackling it. But the Government must also recognise that smaller firms will need access to grants, subsidies and other financial support to help them take effective steps on the journey to a greener future.”

Flood in China

Recent flooding in China

UN climate change warning

Humanity’s damaging impact on the climate is a “statement of fact”, say UN scientists in a landmark study.

The authors say that a rise in sea levels approaching two metres by the end of this century “cannot be ruled out”.

The assessment is from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) features in a 42-page document known as the Summary for Policymakers.

One of the report’s authors,. Prof Ed Hawkins, from the University of Reading, UK, said: “It is a statement of fact, we cannot be any more certain; it is unequivocal and indisputable that humans are warming the planet.”

The authors say that since 1970, global surface temperatures have risen faster than in any other 50-year period over the past 2,000 years.

This warming is “already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe”.

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