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KPMG's climate warriors: connecting sustainability to global recovery

15 July: ICAEW speaks to Richard Betts, Director, Sustainability Services Turkey at KPMG, who explains that as sustainability grows in importance it can be strengthened and redefined by post-COVID global recovery efforts.

The scale of the challenges relating to the global post-pandemic recovery and other systemic risks posed by climate change require multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration. Governments, business and individuals all have a role to play. 

The growing sustainability landscape

Globally and in Turkey, where Betts is based, there has been a sharp increase in the number of companies active in sustainability. For example, in 1992, just 26 companies published a sustainability report – now there are over 10,000 reporting annually.

The challenges we’re all faced with are increasingly sustainability-related, underlined by many recent studies and disasters such as the Australian forest fires. 

Along with COVID-19, the key risks to humanity are now very different compared to just 10 years ago. Every year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) publishes a top risk report. Going back 10 years, many of the top risks were economic and financial, whereas this year the top five risks by likelihood were all assessed as environmental risks connected to climate and ecological crises. In addition, KPMG’s 2019 CEO Outlook Survey identified climate risk as the number one risk to economic growth.

It is not just big companies looking at sustainability. Many large businesses such as Coca-Cola and Microsoft are increasingly requiring suppliers and business partners to comply with their sustainability requirements. This will impact many SMEs in supply chains and could help accelerate the transformation to a sustainable economy.

KPMG climate warrior network 

A new team within KPMG is trying to play its part in helping to address climate change and environmental degradation: the KPMG climate warriors.

Betts recently established the climate warrior network as a way to do something about what scientists flag as top risks to everyone: risks connected to climate and ecological crises.

He says: “Initially I established the network in Turkey and then to other countries across Europe and Asia. We have created a climate warrior team page for fundraising and events that is open to all our teams to join. We have launched events in Turkey and overseas and are now working on the next initiatives. 

“We did this initially by supporting official events like races but then, due to the COVID-19 restrictions, by improvising and organising activities from the safety of our homes. I ran an Istanbul half marathon in our basement after the official race was postponed due to COVID-19. 

“The total impact of our initiative to date has been to secure permanent protection for around 12,000 acres (5,000 hectares – an area almost 25 times the size of Monaco) of rainforest and to lock in an estimated two million tonnes plus of carbon. As context, the average carbon footprint of a global citizen is currently around five tonnes of CO2e per year. So the achievement to date is similar to balancing the annual footprint of around 400,000 citizens based on global averages.”

International collaboration

Linked to the COVID-19 experience, sustainability is an international area of work. Since the pandemic broke out, barriers to cooperation have been removed and many companies are working together more frequently. The rapid improvements in communication technology in recent years have also helped.

The hope is that this will continue, even when restrictions are removed. However, COVID-19 has also shown us that there are significant risks to our supply chains. Many companies would previously have said biodiversity and climate change were not relevant to them as they didn’t operate directly in these areas. But companies have complex, global supply chains, and we can see that actions somewhere in the world can have repercussions elsewhere in the world.

What to expect next

We can expect to see companies looking to increase their resilience against systemic risks like climate change and COVID-19 and this may result in a move to more local suppliers and local solutions. 

This is no time to let down our guard. Science is telling us there is currently a big gap between where we are and where we need to be. COVID-19 has shown us that we can achieve positive steps through international cooperation and idea-sharing. The KPMG climate warrior network is one example.