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I work in Climate Action, and I feel both scared and hopeful every day

Do we live in unprecedented times? Have we seen systems struggling to cope with the global COVID-19 pandemic? Do we face disruption, uncertainty, and seemingly constant political shockwaves? And do I think it will be a huge challenge to tackle the climate emergency? Quite simply, yes. 

But, I also know that as humanity, we have some things that are greater than these challenges. We have internationally assessed, clear science on climate change through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; we have global goals and principles for the sustainability agenda, limiting global warming, and company action on human rights; we have pathways showing what is needed from companies and countries; and we have the knowledge that with the strength of collaborative action, we can achieve transformational change.

Which is why we can – and must – tackle the climate emergency in a just and equitable way.

Companies need to step up

Companies need to play a pivotal role in this collaborative action ecosystem, alongside governments and policymakers, investors, civil society and individual citizens, employees, and consumers. To achieve a just and equitable decarbonisation and energy transformation, we need action on the internationally assessed science, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically, and soon.  

That’s why at the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA), with our Ally and research partner CDP and partner ADEME, we are assessing and ranking 450 of the most influential companies in high-emitting sectors on their contributions to the Paris Agreement goals, SDGs 7 and 13, and the transition to a low-carbon economy. By creating a race to the top for these companies and building a movement across the whole ecosystem, we want to take collaborative action and achieve the change needed 

Where does the automotive sector stand?

Automotive manufacturing is a key high-emitting sector; the transportation sector accounts for roughly one quarter of global CO2 emissions (World Resources Institute) and the automotive sector has a turnover equivalent to the world’s sixth largest economy (International Labour Organization (ILO)). 80% of emissions in a car’s lifetime are created whilst in use, which is why the ACT methodology used for the assessment focuses on these emissions – and why zero emission road transport is a key area for COP26 in 2021. Furthermore, with its far-reaching value chains, the automotive sector can positively influence the socially sustainable development of entire regions. (Wolff et al).  

The automotive industry, like many others, has had a turbulent 2020. Millions of car manufacturing workers were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Contractual workers have been particularly vulnerable, for example in India where they account for 50 percent of the automotive workforce (ILO). Trade associations lobbied to postpone new EU emissions reduction laws for carmakers (Transport & Environment). More than ever, we need to track the action, performance and progress of the automotive sector towards the SDGs.  

WBA’s response – systems thinking on accountability

Next month, at WBA, as part of our Climate & Energy Benchmark, we will publish updated findings on 30 keystone automotive companies (list here). These will build on the Automotive Benchmark 2019, which assessed 25 of these 30 companies. While internal combustion engine phaseouts are being set and hundreds of new electric vehicle models are emerging (SBTi), the 2019 Benchmark showed that all but one company assessed realised over 90% of sales from high emission vehicles and that greater ambition and action is needed.

In tandem, WBA’s Corporate Human Rights Benchmark will publish its findings on the 30 keystone companieshuman rights performance. Together, the findings will also produce cross-system insights into the automotive sector, reflecting the need for companies to act on sustainability in a holistic and interconnected way. Additionally, WBA will articulate its plan for assessing the 450 high-emitting companies on their contribution to a just and equitable decarbonisation and energy transition. 

These results will shine a light on some important questions. Are automotive companies setting and taking action towards science-based emissions reduction targets, while implementing human rights due diligence across their operations and far-reaching supply chains? This poses a key question for consumers: when purchasing a new car, will you also think about the working conditions of the people that played a part in manufacturing it, as well as its climate impacts? Questions asked and answered will bring to life thinking on true transformation, seeking to bring about change in the activities and decision making of all stakeholders – from policies to technologies, lifestyles to leadership. 

The road ahead

In the face of these global challenges I have confidence that through the use of our benchmarks, companies and the wider ecosystem can get onto the path needed to take us into the safe and just space for humanity, achieving prosperity within the planet’s natural resources. The WBA’s Automotive sector 2020 findings will be an ignition that sets in motion a chain of collaborative action. It is clear that when we work together, we can achieve transformational change