By Emma Carroll-Monteil, Sustainable Restaurant Association
In 2021 the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) published the Working Group I Report – also appropriately referred to as ‘code red for humanity’. The Working Group I (WGI) analysed the physical climate system and updated us on where we are at now in relation to climate change. Since then, we have been anticipating the next report, Working Group II, which examines the natural and socio-economic impacts of climate change.
At long last, the Working Group II Report was published this week, and it has provided an assessment of the impacts of climate change, as well as considered ecosystems, biodiversity, and human communities at global and regional levels. It also reviewed the capacity of our planet to adapt to climate change. The report is as bleak as we expected, however, there is still a glimmer of hope for our planet – according to the report’s lead author, Dr Helen Adams, “One of the things that I think is really, really clear in the report is that yes, things are bad, but actually, the future depends on us, not the climate”. As such, we’re going to provide a quick summary of the headlines, but also why we should stay hopeful, and more importantly, how and why we should continue to stay active in responding to climate change.
The findings have been broken down into three key areas:
- Observed and projected impacts and risks
- Current adaptations and its benefits
- Climate resilient development
- Observed and projected impacts and risks
In contrast to the words of Billy Joel, we, as humans, most definitely did start this fire.
The present report emphasises that the climate crisis is unequivocally being caused by human activity. This has led to more frequent extreme events, resulting in widespread damage to nature and people. Across sectors and regions, the most vulnerable people and systems are most disproportionately affected. Vulnerability of ecosystems and people to climate change differs substantially among and within regions, and this variability is driven by factors such as socio-economic development, unsustainable resource use, inequity, and governance.
In this report, the warning around 1.5°C temperature increase still remains: if global warming exceeds 1.5°C temperature increase in the coming decades or later (overshoot), then our planet will face additional severe risks. Depending on the magnitude and duration of overshoot, many of the impacts will be irreversible, posing significant risk to both natural and human systems. Further, climate change impacts and risks are becoming increasingly complex and more difficult to mitigate.
- Current adaptation and its benefits
This section leans more to the ‘good news’ side of things. The report recognises that there has been significant progress in adaptations planning and implementation across sectors and regions – though this progress is unevenly distributed and has many gaps.
Further, the authors outline that there are feasible and effective adaptation options which can reduce risks to people and nature. They also emphasise that ‘enabling conditions are key for implementing, accelerating and sustaining adaptation in human systems and ecosystems’, which includes political action, institutional frameworks, policies, improving education, and more.
- Climate resilient development (building ability to cope with climate change impacts)
This section also could be spun as being good-ish news. The report acknowledges that there has been more urgent demonstrable worldwide climate resilient development action than previously addressed. However, this has still not been enough to significantly advance global climate resilient development. The authors explain that climate resilience can be created when governments and institutional bodies make inclusive development choices that prioritise risk reduction, equity, and justice. Further, climate resilience is achieved through collaborative work between the government with communities, educational bodies, scientific and other institutions, media, businesses; and by developing partnerships with traditionally marginalised groups. The authors also maintain that the choices and actions we make in the next decade determine the future of our planet. According to Prof Debra Roberts, co-chair of the IPCC, “This is really a key moment. Our report points out very clearly, this is the decade of action, if we are going to turn things around.”
In sum, the report has confirmed our fears, but also provided encouragement that there is still a brief window of time to avoid the very worst outcomes.
What we at the SRA are doing about it?
Bizarrely, though this report is undeniably terrifying, it is not a surprise, which is mildly reassuring. Yes, things are bad, but we already knew things were bad. What we didn’t know, was if there was any hope remaining. And indeed, there is. This in itself I hope will provide momentum and motivation for people to change their behaviour, and to act more sustainably.
Although it is clear that humanity is the cause of climate change, and that food plays a large role in the problem, it is also clear that both humanity and our food systems can and must be part of the solution. Hospitality has a unique role to play in this. Not just because food is a highly impactful sector and is responsible for a large percentage of global emissions, but because of the way that food intersects with every aspect of our lives.
At the SRA, our goal is to promote change towards an environmentally restorative and socially progressive hospitality sector. Not only are we working hard to improve the sustainability of the hospitality sector in the UK, but we are also working to expand worldwide, so we can help accelerate sustainability globally. We aim to do this through our global partnership programme (including locations in Hong Kong and Japan), our partnerships with international companies (including Flor de Caña and Valrhona), and global campaigns. Our recently relaunched One Planet Plate campaign, for example, aims to serve up 5 million sustainable meals across the planet (read more about it here).
We are also working with our close friends and colleagues at Net Zero Now on the Restaurant, Pub, and Bar protocols, to help these venues transition to net zero. Net Zero Now recognises the urgency with which businesses need to tackle the climate emergency, and the requirement to make this process as accessible as possible. It does this by providing sector-specific tools and useful guidance for SMEs to calculate and reduce their full value chain climate impact.
Our Food Made Good Rating will continue to be the gold standard for assessing sustainability across the food service sector. This certification tool shows business commitment to action, and also provides them with support and guidance on how to become even more sustainable.
What can you do about it?
Whether you are reading this as an individual interested in sustainability, or as an employee in a business that is committing to make a difference– there is a lot that everyone can do to work towards the global change needed to combat the climate crisis.
Firstly, make changes in your personal life – actions from individuals are important, and every bit counts. This might be changing your diet, your transportation methods, how and where you shop, and more. Think about what changes you can make, starting with what interests or motivates you, and what is realistically possible.
Similarly, if you’re a business, it’s important to reflect on your sustainability practices and see where you can improve. This might be switching to renewable energy, using local suppliers, or upping the number of vegetables on your menu. Also ensure that you are engaging your teams in the sustainability conversation – not only will this help reduce your impact on the planet, but it also has a significant impact on staff retention and business incentive. Our Food Made Good Rating can also help you evaluate your practices, celebrate what steps you’re taking to be more sustainable, and highlight areas to improve on. You can also reduce your carbon footprint by working with us alongside Net Zero Now.
As either an individual or a business, put pressure on other businesses and Governmental bodies to make systemic changes. Individual behaviour can still make a substantial difference in protecting the planet, but to see large-scale changes, we need action from those who hold the most authority. Write to your neighbourhood’s MP about what changes should be made locally, sign petitions, get involved in campaigns, and more.
Ultimately, we are at a critical point in time. But our actions now matter more than ever, and through collaboration and innovation, we hope that we can work together to keep a greener future in sight.
Read the full report and draft final chapters on each topic here: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/