Five months ago, most people hadn’t even heard of Covid-19. But virtually overnight, all attention turned to this invisible yet deadly disease. And rightly so. Lives were – are – at stake.
In doing so, the focus shifted from a far greater and ever-present threat to people and the planet: the climate and nature crisis.
These haven’t gone away while the world has been dealing with Covid-19. Far from it. They are deepening by the day.
So, we must all double-down on our efforts. Because, while time is not on our side, we do have a window in which to act.
That’s why, today, we are announcing a new set of actions and commitments designed to improve the health of the planet:
Photo by Unilever employee, Ina Blatt
We’re being even bolder, so we can go even further
We are recognised for setting ourselves ambitious plans. Last month, we celebrated ten years of our Sustainable Living Plan. From this, we’ve learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t.
And last year, we announced bold targets to keep plastic in the circular economy – where it is reused, recycled or composted – and stop it from ever finding its way into the environment.
Our new commitments are the next step. And they go further than we’ve ever gone before.
“While the world is dealing with the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and grappling with serious issues of inequality,” says Unilever CEO Alan Jope, “we can’t let ourselves forget that the climate crisis is still a threat to all of us. Climate change, nature degradation, biodiversity decline, water scarcity – all these issues are interconnected, and we must address them all simultaneously.
“In doing so, we must recognise that the climate crisis is not only an environmental emergency; it also has a terrible impact on lives and livelihoods. We, therefore, have a responsibility to help tackle the crisis: as a business, and through direct action by our brands.”
Tackling the climate emergency
We will maintain our existing science-based targets; meaning that, by 2030, there will be no carbon emissions from our own operations, and the GHG footprint of our products across their value chain will be halved.
Given the scale of the climate crisis, we are making an additional commitment: net zero emissions from all our products – from the sourcing of the materials, to the point of sale – by 2039. That’s 11 years ahead of the 2050 Paris Agreement deadline.
Reaching this aggressive decarbonisation target will also require a level of transparency across the value chain that does not exist today. In our journey towards net zero, our ambition is to communicate the carbon footprint of every product we sell.
Photo by Unilever employee, Beatriz Slikta
Looking after our forests
To effectively tackle the climate crisis, we must also protect high carbon ecosystems, like forests, peatlands and tropical rainforests, which are essential to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.
We have been leading the industry on sustainable sourcing practices for over a decade, and we are proud that 89% of our forest-related commodities are certified as sustainably sourced to globally recognised standards.
However, we believe that to end deforestation, we must challenge ourselves to even higher standards. And we have committed to achieving a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023.
We will also work with the industry, NGOs and governments to protect other important areas of high conservation value and high carbon stock – those that extract carbon from the atmosphere and store it – which are under threat of conversion to arable land. Without protection, there is the potential for devastating impact on natural habitats.
Photo by Unilever employee, Attaporn Somboon
We’re also setting out to help regenerate nature and preserve the earth’s natural resources for future generations.
The many years of working with the highest sustainable agriculture standards have helped protect forests and biodiversity, stabilise soil depletion and preserve water quality. However, it is not enough to protect and preserve. We also need to drive regenerative agriculture practices that have emphasis on restoring soil health, water conservation and access, actively increasing local biodiversity, and regenerating forests and other carbon critical landscapes.
To do this, we will empower a new generation of farmers and smallholders who are committed to protecting and regenerating their farm environment.
Initiatives that we will drive include securing legal land rights, agronomic training programmes, access to finance and financial inclusion, and development of restorative practices. This integrated approach will improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
We are also introducing a Regenerative Agriculture Code for all our suppliers. This will include details on farming practices that help rebuild critical resources: soil, water and biodiversity. As we did previously with our Sustainable Agriculture Code, we will make this Code available to any organisation that may find it useful – with the goal of driving change throughout the industry.
Photo by Unilever employee, Per-Alexander Charwat
Protecting and preserving water
As part of our ambition to protect and regenerate nature, we will step up efforts to preserve water. Already, 40% of the world's population is affected by water scarcity and more than 2.1 billion people consume unsafe drinking water. Water security will continue to deteriorate as the impact of climate change is felt on water quality and availability across the globe.
We will implement water stewardship programmes for the local communities in 100 locations in water-stressed areas by 2030. To do this, we will take the learnings from the Prabhat programme in India, which ensures that people in and around our sites continue to have access to water as the climate crisis bites.
The programme takes a community approach to water management, and aims to not only help farmers across cropping seasons, but also address the basic human need of easy access to safe, clean water.
We will also join the 2030 Water Resources Group, hosted by the World Bank, to contribute to transformative change and building resilience in water management in key water-stressed markets such as India, Brazil, South Africa, Vietnam and Indonesia.
To further protect water resources, we also aim to make our product formulations biodegradable by 2030, to minimise their impact on water and the aquatic ecosystems. Although some of the ingredients that we currently use have no viable biodegradable alternatives, we will work with partners to drive innovation and find solutions to help us reach our ambition.
Photo by Unilever employee, Amrutash Nanda P
Accelerating action through a new Climate & Nature Fund
To accelerate action, our brands will collectively invest €1 billion in a new dedicated Climate & Nature Fund, which they will use over the next ten years on initiatives that protect and improve the health of the planet. These could include projects that restore landscapes, reduce carbon emissions, or reforest and reinstate wildlife habitats.
This will build on all the great work we’re already doing. For example, Ben & Jerry’s reducing greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farms, Seventh Generation advocating for clean energy for all and Knorr supporting farmers to grow food more sustainably.
“Our collective responsibility in tackling the climate crisis is to drive an absolute reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, not simply focus on offsetting – and we have the scale and determination to make it happen,” explains Marc Engel, Unilever Chief Supply Chain Officer. “But this is not enough. If we want to have a healthy planet long into the future, we must also look after nature: forests, soil biodiversity and water ecosystems.
“In most parts of the world, the economic and social inclusion of farmers and smallholders in sustainable agricultural production is the single most important driver of change for halting deforestation, restoring forests and helping regenerate nature. In the end, they are the stewards of the land. We must, therefore, empower and work with a new generation of farmers and smallholders in order to make a step change in regenerating nature.”
€1 bn invested in a new dedicated Climate & Nature Fund
Bringing the planet back to health
The global response to Covid-19 has given us a taste of what fundamental transformation can look like. We’ve seen how much dramatic change we can drive when we understand what’s at stake and when people connect with what they really value.
While we continue to fight the pandemic, we must intensify and accelerate our efforts to tackle the two biggest challenges we face today: the climate crisis and social inequality. And it requires everyone. Not just government, businesses and NGOs. But every global citizen.
If you care about human development and protecting the earth’s resources, you need to care about a serious response to climate change.
Through our new commitments, we want to do even more to help restore the health of the natural world. And if anyone thinks that isn’t a worthwhile ambition, we’d just ask them this…
What planet are you on?