One year after the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, we have come a long way: The race to zero is on. Countries representing more than 65% of global carbon dioxide emissions and more than 70% of the world economy, have made ambitious commitments to carbon neutrality.
The European Union, Japan and the Republic of Korea, together with more than 110 other countries, have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050; China stated it will become carbon neutral before 2060. The U.S. has rejoined the Paris Agreement. On a corporate level, more than 480 companies, including SAP, have meanwhile signed the Business Ambition for 1.5°C commitment, setting a net-zero target in line with a 1.5°C future.
Yet, the urgency and importance to act are as high as ever. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report 2020 made it very clear: despite a dip in greenhouse gas emissions from the COVID-19 economic slowdown, the world is still heading for a catastrophic temperature rise above 3°C this century. Hope continues to lie in a green pandemic recovery, which UNEP believes could cut 25% off the greenhouse emissions expected in 2030.
As more than 1 billion people in over 192 countries participate in Earth Day activities today, President Biden has invited 40 world leaders to a Leaders Summit on Climate. It is a major milestone on the road to the UN Climate Change Conference 2021 (COP26) in November, where world leaders will report back on progress since the 2015 Paris Agreement and are expected to come together to drive ambitious climate outcomes forward.
It has been rightfully emphasized how important it is for our collective well-being to address the climate crisis. During the past year, however, evidence has been increasing how interrelated taking care of the environment is with taking care of ourselves.
Earlier this month, the UNEP announced “One Health,” a cross-cutting approach that carries out programs, policies, legislation, and research uniting human, animal, and environmental health.
Julian Blanc, a UNEP wildlife expert sees a clear interdependency: “Many zoonoses that have become pandemics have been linked to environmental factors like deforestation and are exacerbated by climate change. We will not succeed in securing human health while we continue to ignore environmental health.”
The close link between climate change and health is also in spotlight at the 2021 Global Conference on Health & Climate Change convening at the margin of COP26. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), which is co-organizing the event, air pollution alone costs an estimated US$ 5.11 trillion in welfare losses globally each year and causes one out of eight deaths globally. A new study by the Harvard University published in Environmental Research beginning of February 2021, increases estimates of the numbers killed by air pollution even to one out of five.
Shouldn’t this reframe everything? It makes climate change seem a lot less abstract and distant; rather an immediate and direct threat to our health and that of our children — a massive wake-up call!
So as we mark Earth Day 2021 with the theme “Restore our Earth,” let’s recognize that for us to be healthy people, we need a healthy planet. This means taking steps to act now and reshape our economy to be more restorative, low-carbon, circular, and inclusive.
At SAP, our opportunity to create the biggest positive environmental, social, and economic impact within the planetary boundaries is to provide digital solutions and services that enable our more than 400,000 customers to become more sustainable. With nearly 50 years of experience in resource optimization, we focus on those areas in which we can most effectively contribute: solutions for holistic steering and reporting, a circular economy, climate action, and socially responsible value chains.
Acknowledging that collaboration is key, we partner and co-innovate with customers, governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world to advocate for practical problem solving.
At the upcoming SAP Sustainability Summit from April 28-29, we will announce new partnerships and explore opportunities, proven practices, and future solutions with our customers and broader ecosystem, as well as see how traditional business decision making is being transformed with sustainability indicators integrated. In the spirit of Earth Days’ theme “Restore our Earth,” we will restore 100sqm of diverse forest for every summit attendee.
At the same time, we remain committed to lead by example in our own sustainable business operations and practices. In March, when we released our Integrated Report 2020, we announced our objective to become carbon-neutral in our own operations by 2023 – two years earlier than previously envisaged. By accelerating toward carbon-neutral operations, SAP is taking the lead in considering the impact of COVID-19 on carbon emissions. The pandemic has taught businesses how to work with customers and colleagues effectively in a virtual setting. We anticipate the development toward more remote work and less business travel to continue and are adjusting our carbon neutrality target to uphold our ambition level.
The pandemic has changed the world of work in ways we could not have imagined. While some see a silver lining in the climate impacts, we cannot deny the toll it continues to take on people, our employees. Looking at these impacts as part of our holistic steering and reporting, it was clear that the care and well-being of our people required even stronger focus in 2021 with a broad portfolio of benefits and offerings help our people maintain balance and thrive mental, emotional, physical, and social health. For example, we are implementing a Mental Health Day, a company-sponsored global holiday for all employees, scheduled for April 27 next week. Work will grind to a halt on that day, giving everyone time off to do something for themselves and their families, thereby offering employees a chance to recharge.
Let’s take Earth Day 2021 as both a reminder and inspiration of what’s at stake and how important it is that we join forces to create a more just, healthy, and prosperous life for all people, respecting the boundaries of our one planet.
At SAP, we are as committed as ever to live up to our purpose to help the world run better and improve people’s lives with sustainability at its core. I invite everyone to join us on this journey.
Learn more about our efforts to productively manage limited resources by attending the virtual SAP Sustainability Summit.
Daniel Schmid is chief sustainability officer of SAP SE.
This piece was also published on LinkedIn.