How governments and business leaders use standards to accelerate climate action

Standards can add value to national and international climate policy. Here’s how. 

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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. 

Christoph Winterhalter
Christoph Winterhalter
CEO
Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN)

A 2022 IPCC report suggested that if we use existing policies as the bedrock to wider strategy, make use of accelerating climate mitigation technologies and infrastructure, and effect widespread behavioural changes, we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 40 %-70 % by 2050. It’s a big “if”, but less of a mountain to climb if we recognize that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. 

There is already an abundance of standards and policies that can help. What’s lacking is the analysis and coordination of these, the identification of those that are working particularly well and where duplication lies, as well as how we best scale up those that have wider benefit/resonance and promote their use.  

At DIN, we’ve been coordinating a multi-stakeholder approach to launch this process. Standardization provides a platform on which industry, research, civil society and the public sector can come together to discuss and prioritize topics and activities relating to standardization for climate action, and to initiate standardization activities together.  

We launched a project last year focusing attention on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13, which calls on all countries to take action to combat climate change and its effects. Our project aims to, first, identify existing international, European and national standards that may contribute to the fight against climate change, and secondly, perform a gap analysis of standardization needs together with our stakeholders, creating a map to help them identify areas that are insufficiently represented in standards development or where existing standards have to be reviewed.  

The project is limited to a small number of industries, but with the intention to launch similar initiatives in other sectors. Thanks to ISO, we have a good body of standards available, all of which support the United Nations’ SDGs in one way or another.

Standards as a baseline 

ISO standards are rigorous, both in their creation and execution. This, in and of itself, adds value, offering a strong baseline on which policymakers can work to create climate mitigation strategies and regulations. ISO standards, however, offer far more than just this.  

First, reflecting the involvement of many stakeholders in the drafting of a standard, they are universally accepted. This benefit should not be underestimated in today’s fractured, unequal, contested world. 

Secondly, experts in their respective fields create ISO standards, and to make them effective, they typically contain a high level of technical detail as well as safety requirements.  

Thirdly, and underlining the multinational mindset – and membership – of ISO, its solutions are internationally harmonized. For example, DIN is one of 166 members and represents German interests within ISO. This and point two mean that, in practice, an ISO standard represents the same, rigorous regulation/benchmark the world over.  

Finally, ISO standards have been in existence since 1951. They are continually updated, reviewed and refined in light of changing circumstance and knowledge. They are accepted, and, importantly, government and business already use ISO climate-related standards on a daily basis. 

In addition to standards, ISO also produces tools, benchmarks and guidelines, which offer additional invaluable insights and support. Think of the time saved when the foundations for a policy or a set of metrics have already been laid.  

ISO engagement 

ISO is not a passive actor in climate mitigation efforts. It does not simply put out a standard and sit back. Instead, it engages with the private sector and policymakers, and is currently working hard to support moves to qualify the language and concepts required to make progress on mitigating climate change.  

At COP27 in Egypt, ISO will launch a first version of its Net Zero Guidelines. Recognizing that, to date, there has been no single accepted definition of such an important construct as net zero, ISO has channelled its energies into supporting attempts to clarify this and find a common understanding, using common language, without which it is impossible to track progress.  

ISO also shares lessons it has learned. As an organization founded on cooperation, collaboration and consensus, we have learned a lot from working together. From our own experiences, we recommend that policymakers and business leaders create a consensus with all stakeholders, much as we do when deliberating standards. Co-creating legislative rules, standards and accredited conformity assessment to deliver a policy objective helps build ownership and accountability among all parties.  

No need to reinvent the wheel 

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic highlights what is possible – in this case a remarkably swift, collaborative arrival at a vaccine – when existing regulations and structures, government and private-sector expertise and funding, and pharmaceuticals knowledge come together. 

It will take trillions of dollars annually to secure the transition to a sustainable, net-zero world. It is clear that no one constituency has the tools, authority, finance or expertise to achieve this. Instead, a genuinely collective approach is required, and is already gathering momentum, as the focus on bringing academia into COP27 is highlighted. 

We have the foundation and resources to take global action. There are already numerous policy tools and standards available that help address climate change mitigation, ensuring greater consistency and providing international benchmarks to increase the impact of any global effort. It is increasingly clear that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, just realign it.  

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