THE BLOG

Unmanaged Climate Change Is an Unacceptable Risk - Tackling It Is an Unparalleled Opportunity

10/12/2015 18:02 GMT | Updated 10/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Climate change is serious.

It's causing more heat waves and wildfires, deepening droughts and aggravating flooding. This threatens the very essence of life - depleting the critical resources and altering the climate that our global food system relies on. There are many who've already been affected by the inexorable pressures and periodic disasters that come with climate change - lost homes, lost livelihoods or worse still, lost loved ones.

The science is clear - to avoid the worst of those consequences there's a total carbon budget we need to respect. We also know we're burning through it as if there won't be a bill to pay. We're running out of time.

The UN's Conference of Parties - COP 21 - is meeting in Paris this week to negotiate a global agreement on future steps to address climate change. Mars is there because COP 21 is a golden opportunity for the business community to reinforce our support and desire for national commitments to reduce emissions - in line with the science. We know the national targets set as part of COP 21 are progress - but we also know they're not enough yet.

Having a clear view of that science during target setting creates strategic tension. If the familiar and comfortable strategies on the table don't get you under that budget, you should feel discomfort. Like the bit of grit that turns into a pearl, that tension can drive innovation - making what a first sounded impossible sound reasonable.

We learned this lesson at Mars in 2008 when we set our Sustainable in a Generation (SiG) targets for our direct operations - including reductions of greenhouse gas emissions of 25% in 2015 and 100% in 2040 vs. a 2007 baseline. While that target process started with the science, it was the gap between what we could do with energy efficiency alone and what the science asked that proved critical.

We stepped out of our comfort zone to explore ways to close that gap and discovered the potential in renewable energy. Exploring the potential of that strategy gave us the confidence to commit to the SiG targets. That led to us partnering last year to create a 200 MW, 118 turbine wind farm in Texas that produces electricity equivalent to 100% of our US usage and 24% of our SiG target - putting us on track for delivering our 2015 target.

Our belief in the science also makes us value having others act accordingly. That's why we're in Paris. And why our CEO signed Ceres' Accelerating Change letter from food companies to policymakers. And why we support the American Business Act on Climate, led by President Obama and the White House. And why we participated in the Science Based Targets Initiative from WRI, WWF and CDP. And more.

Of course, the efforts of business and national governments on climate aren't mutually exclusive - every tonne of carbon Mars eliminates is also contributing to national carbon reductions. Most of the national commitments from COP 21 come into effect in 2020 - business and other non-state actors will have continued to make progress against our goals between now and then.

So we have a recommendation and a caution for policymakers. The recommendation is to fix the science in your mind and assess your comfort with your outcome based on that. The caution is that small thinking leads to small results - big thinking leads to big results. Take that gap and use it to drive innovation.

Right now, we all have an opportunity to win - to leave a safe, sustainable climate for our children and future generations, to establish a more equitable and secure society and to create a mutually prosperous economic future. If we do it right and right now, we may not be too late.