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From aspirations to action: helping countries reach their climate goals

Trusted standards are making the race towards a sustainable future faster. Here’s how.

The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is being held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, on 6-18 November 2022. ISO and its members join ranks with world change makers to showcase how International Standards help transform climate commitments into action.

Our coverage of COP27 provides an overview and greater insights of ISO’s work in this area, from in-depth features to thought-provoking think pieces.

In large parts of the world, green consciousness has taken hold, apparent in all aspects of everyday life, from children learning about sustainability in school to the interest in veganism, green banking and the rise of smart cities and technology.

The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the need for systemic change, highlighting the fragility of our ecosystem (from which further devastating zoonotic diseases could emerge) and the wide-reaching effects of a global problem. And it doesn’t get more global than climate change.

Increasing consumer pressure and calls for accountability are colouring the business consciousness, shifting dialogue – and activity – towards sustainable business models and a green economy.

But while the incidence of broad, net-zero targets is rising, commitments to actions that are robust and meaningful – and importantly include timelines and measurable goals – remain limited. Trusted standards, of the type that ISO produces, are vital to changing this dynamic.

Targets, standards and governance

The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves, a saying made famous by US businessman Ray Kroc. Although Kroc is associated with his work as CEO of McDonalds during the 1960s and 1970s, the sentiment seems almost prophetic six decades later.

Targets, standards, and oversight go hand in hand. Being able to accurately measure something as large, complex, and amorphous as climate change is important. Key performance indicators need to be developed, universal reporting standards agreed upon, and, in this respect, existing standards offer an excellent place to start.

It is not simply a case of, the better the standard, the better the outcome. Policymakers who use or reference standards place themselves in a stronger position to more swiftly reach their climate goals.

The same goes for business, with increasing numbers of companies discovering the support that International Standards provide in helping them to better measure, manage and assess their impacts and contributions to mitigating the effects of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Setting standards and acting on them

ISO is a global network of national standards bodies – the foremost standards organizations in their countries. ISO and its 166 members, including SCC, have committed to aligning their standards with climate action through a resolution called the London Declaration, signed in 2021.

In practice, this means that all ISO standards are in line with, and where possible accelerate, progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement, and the United Nations Call for Action on Adaptation and Resilience.

As a result, many of ISO’s more than 24 000 standards support the SDGs, with a number essential in supporting the climate agenda, specifically helping to adapt to climate change, quantify GHGs, and promote the dissemination of best practices in environmental management.

As this highlights, ISO isn’t simply about setting standards; it’s about getting things done and effecting positive change. In Canada, SCC works with government, business, and communities, using standards to accelerate progress towards climate change mitigation solutions.

In one such example, the government is procuring low-carbon building materials, including CarbonCure’s new technology for concrete, which permanently stores carbon. SCC has supported the recognition of this technology with changes to the industry standards that govern concrete production.

Standards are also on the frontline of Canada’s adaptation and resilience efforts, as demonstrated by SCC’s recent leadership on standards to address community flood risk, the adaptation of Northern communities infrastructure and the incorporation of Indigenous Knowledge into strengthened tools for climate monitoring across our vast territories and ecosystems.

Elsewhere, ISO has collaborated with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to develop a robust system of conformity assessment (ISO/IEC 17000) designed to counter “greenwashing”. The organization is also developing a series of standards to underpin and catalyse green and sustainable finance by providing structure, transparency, and credibility for investments in environmental projects and programmes.

Blueprint for the future

ISO standards are world-class. Their transparency, quality assurance, neutrality, inclusivity, and credibility are beyond question. Millions of dollars are invested in creating a standard, with a network of global experts debating and shaping each standard to reflect state-of-the-art knowledge, and the needs of key stakeholder and user groups.

In addition to standards, ISO also produces tools, benchmarks, and guidelines, which offer additional invaluable insights and support, helping to transform discussion into action, and bringing oversight to something as overwhelming as tackling climate change.

Modern standards are designed to respond to today’s – and in terms of climate change, tomorrow’s – problems. ISO is a standards bearer, literally and figuratively. Its experiences, work, and products are designed to make things better locally and globally.

Large-scale adoption of climate-related standards will help government and industry adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change, while also accelerating the shift to sustainable economies and business models. In this endeavour, ISO is there to guide, inform and offer expert knowledge. I call on you to use its standards to help shape, support, and set the bar high for international environmental standards, targets, and measurements.

Disclaimer: PECB has obtained permission to publish the articles written by ISO.

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