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What can SMEs do to fight climate change?

25 March 2021

Majda Dabaghi, Director of Inclusive & Green Growth at the International Chamber of Commerce and ICE Brunel International Lecture Series guest speaker, encourages engineers and infrastructure professionals to join the United Nations Race to Zero campaign by making the SME Climate Commitment.

What can SMEs do to fight climate change?
The International Chamber of Commerce calls on small and medium-sized firms to commit to change. Image credit: Shutterstock

The world around us is changing, and quickly. Civil engineers of all types and sizes have an important role to play in helping the world get on track to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

The science is clear: to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we must ensure a 50% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 – a crucial milestone to avoid irreversible climate change – and race to net-zero emission by no later than 2050. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs with less than 500 employees), including civil engineering firms, are the key to success on climate, but have been largely left out of climate action initiatives to date.

As Seth Schultz, executive director of global organisation The Resilience Shift, discussed at the Europe leg of ICE’s 13th Brunel lecture series entitled “21st Century Leadership is Partnership”: civil engineers hold a unique set of tools and skills to shape the infrastructure of society.

In laying the foundation of how we live, civil engineers can impact methods of energy efficiency, renewable electricity, decarbonisation of the industry, and carbon sequestration. The long-time priority has been guaranteeing safe infrastructure, but the focus now needs to be on safe, zero-carbon, and resilient infrastructure.

There are further incentives for civil engineering firms to take climate action. It is possible that 1.26 trillion USD of revenue could be at risk for suppliers over the next five years due to climate change, deforestation, and water insecurity (CDP Global Supply Chain Report 2020). Despite this staggering figure, of the 65% of SMEs that are worried about climate change, only 27% say they are well prepared to deal with the consequences (UNEP + AXA SME Readiness and Concern about Climate Change Report 2015).

Most civil engineering firms are small businesses and have the power to innovate to help us meet the scale and speed of the solutions we need alongside every other size of enterprise – and we call on you to make the SME Climate Commitment and start to take action to reduce your own emissions and help your clients make the changes they need to make to get on course to net zero, as well. I’d love to see as many ICE members as possible mobilised and signed up to the SME Climate Hub ahead of COP26 in Glasgow this November.

The SME Climate Hub needs your commitment

The SME Climate Hub has been created to tackle the gap in global climate effort inclusion head on. We can only drive emissions reductions at the scale needed to meet the Paris Agreement if climate action becomes everyone’s business. That means starting with the SMEs at the heart of every industry, in every country the world over – every commitment counts.

The pure economic rationale for launching the SME Climate Hub in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis could not be clearer. Disruptions to the supply of essential materials over the last year have clearly shown the imperative to build bottom-up resilience to external shocks in global supply chains.

SMEs that have proven so vulnerable to the demand shock and workplace disruptions caused by the pandemic are often no better equipped to deal with climate-related disruptions to business continuity.

We must also be fully mindful of the severe constraints that many SMEs are now operating under as a result of the economic hardship wrought by Covid-19.

To some, this may provide a convenient pretext for delaying necessary climate action. But that, to our minds, would be to miss the opportunity to embed climate action as a tool for SMEs to recover stronger and more resilient from the turmoil, and to create long lasting business opportunities for growth.

We [the International Chamber of Commerce] urge all small and medium-sized companies to commit to halving greenhouse gas emissions before 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions before 2050 through the SME Climate Hub.

As well as experiencing the business benefits of taking climate action, SMEs making this commitment will be globally recognised by the Race to Zero campaign, a United Nations initiative rallying leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, investors for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs, and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth.

ICE needs you!

  • The ICE wants to showcase what the industry can do to do support governments in achieving their high-level carbon reduction targets. SMEs, share your carbon success stories! Sign up as a Carbon Champion.
  • Sign up to the next part of ICE's 13th Brunel International Lecture Series, which takes place in May 2021, and discover how the engineering community can deliver a carbon-neutral and resilient society by mid-century.
  • , Director of Inclusive & Green Growth, International Chamber of Commerce