Climate change: towards carbon neutrality

In its August 2021 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed once again the human origin of rising temperatures on Earth, the unprecedented scale of the climate changes we are now seeing and the necessity of drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature rise to +1.5°C. This 8 December, on World Climate Day, we are taking another look at the levers for action that SUEZ has defined to contribute to the +1.5°C target: reducing, avoiding and offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. The ultimate goal is to achieve carbon neutrality.

Climate change: what are we talking about?

The concept of climate change first appeared in the media in the late 1980s. Attention began to focus on the unprecedented rise in temperatures recorded across the planet since the beginning of the century. In fact, the climate has always been changing. The average temperature on Earth 20,000 years ago was 5°C colder than today, but this rise, absorbed over several thousand years, occurred without harming ecosystems, which had enough time to adapt. On the other hand, the Earth’s temperature increased by 1°C between 1900 and 2000, an extremely short interval on a planetary time scale. It was also during the 1980s that awareness of biodiversity loss began to grow, and the link between the extinction of certain species and global warming emerged. As the 2000s have progressed, global warming has become a major concern, leading all the world’s stakeholders, states, businesses, industries and citizens to take a stand.
Climate change is irrefutably a product of the industrial age. Post-1750, we have entered an energy society in which we have extracted and burned coal, oil and gas to meet the needs of new industries, emitting uncontrolled quantities of greenhouse gases (GHGs) produced by the combustion of these fossil fuels. These GHGs are not toxic in themselves, and indeed their warming effects are what enable the global temperature of the planet to remain at 15°C. The problem today stems from the fact that this balance has been broken, because we are emitting such large quantities of GHGs at such a rate that they can no longer escape, building up in the atmosphere and raising the temperature like a pressure cooker. All natural cycles and animal and plant ecosystems are experiencing long-lasting disruption.

Greenhouse gases, carbon footprint: how can they be measured?

There are several GHGs, but the most important are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). A global metric has been established to measure them: the “CO2 equivalent”. Beyond the strictly quantifiable aspect, an international classification also allows emissions to be qualified according to three scopes. Scope 1 consists of direct emissions generated by a specific activity. In the case of SUEZ, these include emissions due to incineration and waste storage facilities, for example. The two other scopes cover indirect emissions, such as the electricity consumed by processes (scope 2) or, more broadly, emissions linked to transport, subcontracting services, purchases of goods and services etc. (scope 3).

Companies are responsible for measuring their own carbon footprints. SUEZ calculated its footprint in 2019 – it amounts to 33 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year across all three scopes. If we restrict ourselves to scopes 1 and 2, SUEZ emits just over 9 million tonnes, which is the figure quoted in the 2021 Integrated Report. Including scope 3 alters the results, because it counts, among other things, the emissions linked to water use in the home by customers – such as water heating – which represent 19 million tonnes.

SBTi, a climate strategy validation organisation

The Science Based Targets initiative is an international organisation arising from the United Nations Global Compact, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the World Resource Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature. Its goal is to encourage businesses to define targets for reducing their GHG emissions and promote carbon strategies that will keep the rise in global temperatures below 2°C – or even 1.5°C – relative to pre-industrial levels, in line with the IPCC recommendations and the Paris Climate Agreement. To achieve this, SBTi develops tools, supplies scientific information, provides companies with advice and support and, where relevant, officially validates their strategies. The SBTi approach offers unequivocal robustness and international recognition. Worldwide, 1,878 companies have made commitments through SBTi, and only 846 have obtained this validation, SUEZ among them.

Innovation: the driver of a climate strategy

A programme of innovation is in progress at SUEZ to develop solutions for capturing, storing and using the carbon we emit. The second lever of action, avoiding GHG emissions, primarily targets the way we support our customers in their ecological transition. With recycled materials, for example: by producing recycled materials, the Group enables its customers to avoid using virgin materials and thus contributes to an area’s neutrality. And with waste-to-energy, we are transforming the heat generated by our incinerators into energy that can be used for urban heating, saving our customers from the need to turn to fossil energy.

By the nature of its activities, SUEZ is a provider of solutions. By generating renewable energy from waste and wastewater, and by marketing secondary raw materials produced from recycling, the Group has already helped its customers avoid 10 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. Third and final lever of action: offsetting our emissions. Despite all our efforts at reduction and avoidance, our activities will always generate residual emissions. To achieve neutrality, we will ultimately have to offset these. SUEZ is currently working on various possible scenarios to offset its carbon emissions and put appropriate solutions in place.

Find out more about the IPCC

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up at the request of the UN. The panel now has 195 state members. It brings together scientists from all over the world with the goal of constituting a common framework of knowledge about the climate by pooling and summarising all the scientific information in existence on the subject. In its August report, the IPCC confirmed once again that human activity is behind the rise in global temperatures and the unprecedented scale of the climate changes we are now seeing.

In response to this observation, it sets out several scenarios that can be summarised as follows: either we drastically reduce GHG emissions and limit the rise in global temperatures to +1.5°C, or we do nothing and the maximum increase in temperature predicted by the IPCC is +5°C. A planet that is 5°C hotter by 2100 would be quite simply uninhabitable. Extreme heat, droughts, mega-fires, storms, floods, food shortages, migration...


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