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What does the climate crisis mean for UK businesses?

This week's blog post is from bid writer Joel, focusing on a very prevalent topic...

It is just over a year since Greta Thunberg first stood outside Swedish parliament with a homemade placard bearing the words “Skolstrejk för klimatet”: school strike for the climate.

The movement quickly grew into Fridays for Future, a global weekly school walkout, tapping into an ever-growing concern amongst the young about their futures. The genesis of headline-grabbing Extinction Rebellion coincided with Greta’s rise to fame, with their official “declaration of rebellion” announced in London in October 2018. Today, the global climate strike is set to escalate climate activism to its strongest public demonstration of support to date.

Why the relatively sudden upswell?

Acknowledging the situation as a climate crisis is no longer a fringe view, echoed only by isolated voices on the periphery of public discourse. Instead, the likes of Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion and Sir David Attenborough have succeeded in getting the message across: a YouGov study from summer 2019 found that one third of British adults believed climate change was “quite likely” or “very likely” to bring about the end of humanity. One in four believe a climate-driven third world war is a likely prospect. Even a public numbed by relentless Brexit coverage in the media have grasped the significance of the situation: a YouGov survey in October 2018 – even before the above campaigns had really gathered momentum – found that 74% are concerned about climate change. This week, the results of a study by charity Hope not Hate also arrived at the number 74%, this time in relation to British adults agreeing that the world faces a climate emergency.

No one, not even experienced scientists, let alone the average British citizen, can confidently predict how the climate will change in the coming years. This is very much uncharted territory, and factors such as feedback loops – where small changes trigger a spiralling escalation of further disruption – threaten to make the situation unmanageable extremely quickly.

Construction Building

How will this affect businesses tendering for contracts?

Demonstrating a commitment to the environment has long been a staple feature of tender submissions regardless of sector, and in the context of the climate crisis, it is highly unlikely to disappear. Whilst the UK government’s recent commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 suggests environmental tender content will only increase in importance in the coming years, this target could feasibly be brought forward by decades. Considering your environmental impact as a business is vital, and also how you support this in a tender document.

The same Hope not Hate survey also found that only 23% believe the government is doing enough to avert crisis. This dissatisfaction could well find expression in voting patterns, raising the possibility of legislative developments that affect tender requirements.

This trend of government engagement is already starting to become apparent amongst Britain’s local authorities. More than half – including county, unitary, district and metropolitan councils as well as London boroughs – had declared a climate emergency by August 2019, committing to bringing the government’s 2050 target forward by 20 years in many cases. As these authorities represent one of the prime sources of public sector tenders, there is little doubt that environmental issues will receive heavier weightings, reflecting their importance to councils.

Preparing for the future

Whilst business is rightly focussed on the potential effects of leaving the EU, a parallel crisis is occurring, bringing with it a range of challenges of a fundamentally different – and in many places more severe – character to Brexit. Extreme weather patterns, unstable world geopolitics and increasing resource scarcity are problems that are not going anywhere and are unlikely to abate. Environmental considerations are highly unlikely to remain side-stage, but instead will become one of the defining issues of the century. Businesses must adapt for this change, or will soon find themselves unable to play catch-up.

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