Towards net zero: Building confidence in carbon removal methods in the EU-27

by Sophie-Charlotte Walter, Senior Account Manager & Tim Davidson, Senior Account Executive

Having a net-zero pledge has become the norm rather than the exception and is something investors are increasingly looking at for their portfolios. In practice, companies will reach their net-zero goals using a variety of measures and approaches, such as buying clean energy, redesigning buildings and plants, optimising supply chains and – last but not least – removing residual carbon emissions.

The Institute of International Finance has recognised the potential of the voluntary carbon market and its task force on scaling voluntary carbon markets is a who’s who of global actors across sectors. Seeing a need for harmonised certification to begin with, the EU is proposing a framework and is looking for input on its plans. These mandatory rules would set out specific criteria across the bloc for identifying, monitoring, reporting, and verifying carbon removal practices. In establishing a framework, the European Commission seeks to ensure high-quality and sustainable carbon removal practices, increasing investor, industry, and consumer confidence.

Currently, there are various public and private certification schemes for carbon removals. One example is voluntary carbon markets, where carbon removal projects can issue ‘carbon credits’, which certify that a certain amount of CO2 has been removed. Buyers, such as companies, can purchase these carbon credits to offset their emissions. Thanks to this interest to date, carbon removal methods have been rapidly evolving, ranging from land management techniques to innovative technological solutions.

By developing binding EU-wide rules on carbon removal certification, the Commission looks to increase confidence in this new asset class and support a growing market. With a harmonised approach to assessments, public and private investors should be more confident that carbon removal schemes bring the environmental benefits they claim while enhancing their public credibility. In turn, this would unlock more funding for business models and technologies designed around carbon removals, ultimately leading to more CO2 being removed from the atmosphere.

Businesses and investors are advised to input into the EU’s plans, as these will likely inspire other jurisdictions and international initiatives. A call for evidence feeding into an impact assessment and a separate public consultation are open until 2 May 2022, with a legislative proposal due in Q4 2022.

If you are curious to learn more about the above or the EU’s approach to ESG, please get in touch. Our experienced sustainability team will be happy to help.

Social media companies grappling with how to deal with political content is nothing new. It has been over two years since Twitter banned political advertising, and as the lines between politics and conspiracy have sometimes become blurred Facebook’s policies are ever-changing.

Now, a platform that isn’t usually thought of as being full of political content has produced its own new feature. LinkedIn is testing an option that allows users to block political content from their news feeds.

Other platforms will be watching the result of LinkedIn’s test keenly. LinkedIn says it is testing this new feature in response to user feedback that they do not appreciate the increasing number of political posts they are seeing. There will undoubtedly be a portion of users for whom this is true on other platforms; for example people who signed up to Facebook to stay connected with friends and family and have no interest in seeing other people’s political views. This can be seen in Facebook’s ongoing experiment in reducing, but not removing, the amount of political content in users’ news feeds.

But would Facebook implement a feature that allows users to hide political content completely when it has become such a big part of their network? Giving users the option to hide these posts would likely decrease overall engagement with their platform (to note: Facebook does already allow users to hide content from posts and pages users do not want to see).

Then there is the issue of how to define political content. When moderating and categorising content in this way you are bound to upset someone who finds their content restricted but doesn’t consider themselves a political campaigner. Likewise, notable political campaigners have previously displayed outrage having been removed from platforms with such large audiences, even when flagrantly breaking the rules.

These are all questions that social networks will continue to wrestle with as they balance the competing views of their users as well as their own interests. For now, we wait to see how users react to LinkedIn’s trial and if it is deemed to be a success.

This article appeared in the Cicero/amo February 2022 newsletter.

When I received the offer to intern for the communications team at Cicero/amo, I was in the process of moving from South Africa to the UK. My visa had come through earlier than expected, my accommodation was sorted, and I had managed to find myself a flight for a price so low that even the travel agents were shocked. The missing piece of the puzzle was, of course, a job. After chatting to friends who had pioneered the move a couple of months before me and watching their efforts to find jobs met with rejection letter after rejection letter, I had completely resigned myself to finding a temporary job and doing the hard searching once my feet were on the ground.

Then the offer of an internship at Cicero/amo came along. Having studied economics, the world of comms was completely new to me. I faced the struggles that come with any new role: teething problems and learning the lingo. Even remembering my building pass for days in the office was something that didn’t come naturally. Coming in as an intern into a fast-paced environment was like driving around with an L sticker on the back of your car. Luckily, the other drivers in Cicero/amo were far kinder and much more willing to invite you for a drink than those on the roads.

From the start, I was welcomed enthusiastically and made to feel a part of the team. I was taken aback by the patience and kindness of my team from whom I quickly learnt how to pull together morning monitoring, reach out to journalists and write press releases. I felt the thrill that comes along with seeing something you have been involved with gain traction in the media and then also had to witness the disappointment when hard work doesn’t pay off the way in which you had anticipated.

If being an intern was like being a learner driver, then moving into an Account Executive position was like passing my driving test. At this point the ‘L plates’ came off and I was entrusted with a lot more responsibility even though, on the inside, I still felt as though I was only just learning my place on the road. I can in no way claim that I am near where I want to be, but I am watching and trying to mimic the skills of those around me and aim to handle tasks with the same cool ease with which they seem to.

In one of my first meetings as an Account Executive, Iain Anderson, Executive Chairman of Cicero/amo, described to me that one of his most admirable qualities in a co-worker was the willingness with which they ‘stick up their hand.’ From both personal and team experience, this is certainly a quality with which I feel is instilled within the Cicero/amo team and it is one of the reasons why I feel so comforted in continuing my journey with the company.

This article appeared in the Cicero/amo February 2022 newsletter.

Last week, the Women in Public Affairs (WIPA) network which I chair launched the results of its latest industry survey, which focused on issues around women’s progression, pay transparency and parental leave policies.

This is the third industry survey that WIPA have run, and the results still make for sobering reading. Some areas are (slowly) improving, but other key metrics are getting worse.

The survey found that nine in ten women find publishing salary bands and the gender pay gap important practices for the industry (92% and 90% respectively); however, only 26% of public affairs professionals say their companies currently publish salary bands.

Nine in ten (87%) women in public affairs are less likely to respond to a job advertisement if it doesn’t show salary bands. The desire to see salary bands published is only increasing – this was up by 14% since our first survey in 2019. With only 26% of companies publishing salary bands, this means that three quarters of the industry are potentially missing out on top tier female talent.

The survey also found that women working in public affairs don’t feel they are paid the same as their male colleagues. Thirty-five per cent of women believe pay differs for men and women at the same level in their business, with the number rising to over 40% in larger companies with 50+ employees.

Fifty-eight per cent of respondents have experienced discrimination at work, most commonly based on their gender or age, and only 13% think the industry is good at helping women progress, with half feeling they face greater barriers than men. More women think the industry is poor at helping women to progress than they did when we asked the question in 2020. It is discouraging to see that there has been no progress here in the last few years.

Sixty-two per cent of women working in public affairs do not know their company’s maternity policy well. With only 30% feeling comfortable asking about this in an interview, it is clear that this information gap is impacting women’s ability to make informed choices when they move roles. The better news is that, among those who claim they do know their maternity policy, 72% said that the offering was above statutory level.

Lastly, men still dominate senior roles in public affairs. Forty three per cent of respondents work in organisations with an all-male senior management team, with some respondents telling us they felt that leadership remains very homogenous and that women must work twice as hard as men to prove themselves capable of holding these roles. Diversity in the senior ranks matters, as women need to be able to look up in an organisation and see figures that look like them. We risk alienating half the workforce if this doesn’t change.

The sector needs to take action to demonstrate that it is an industry in which women can thrive and flourish. We talk a lot about transparency in public affairs, and while the industry has been so focused on the reputational damage caused by poor ethical practices, it needs to also consider how a lack of transparency on salaries and parental leave policies also poses a reputational risk.

So, what can employers do? WIPA is calling on senior leaders to set out timescales for when they will publish salary bands [this has kicked off a discussion at Cicero/amo with agreement that we, along with the public affairs industry more generally, should be moving towards greater transparency on pay bands]. We will also be launching an inquiry into pay transparency and urge businesses to engage with this. Consideration should also be given to best practice around communicating parental leave policies, including proactively doing so in any recruitment process. Greater transparency on both these points will not only give employers a benefit in terms of attracting female applicants, but also goes a long way towards signifying the culture of the workplace.

You can read more information on WIPA’s survey here, and the full report here.

This article appeared in the Cicero/amo February 2022 newsletter.

Over the last two years we have seen our inboxes bombarded with content on Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) issues from companies: so much so that Google Trends data shows that there has been a 300% increase in the UK for ‘ESG’ searches between January 2020 and January 2022. Over this time, the issues that underpin ESG have moved from a ‘nice to have’ consideration to business-critical in terms of the C-suite agenda, with heads rolling and public apologies being issued for latent inaction on the part of big business.

Despite the measurable buzz around the acronym, many consumers and investors remain confused about what ‘ESG’ is all about. It brings together three distinct issues, where the challenges of improving the gender pay gap is grouped with reducing ‘Scope 3’ supply chain carbon emissions, despite their positions on different ends of the concern spectrum.

Cicero/amo recently published a global report on behalf of Architas looking into investor confusion on what is meant by ESG. We found that investors across Europe and Asia are more familiar with the phrase ‘Sustainable investing’ than they are ‘ESG.’ Furthermore, amongst the E, S & G, it is Governance factors such as ‘Honest and Transparent Accounting’ that were viewed as the top priority to investors. Unpicking these priorities for businesses will be an ongoing conundrum, with it becoming clear that there are no quick solutions.

However, the call for quick action is clear. As the number of firms committing to Net Zero targets for 2050 grows, few CEOs can realistically expect to still be in the seat in 28 years’ time to see through these commitments. Instead, shareholders and stakeholders are pressing for progress that can be measured over the next 12 months, to hold leaders to their word and force the required investment and action.

To rise to this challenge, businesses need to understand the data on their own internal performance. By fully looking under the bonnet, businesses can both benchmark current performance and prioritise areas for improvement. In an upcoming Cicero/amo report in partnership with International Regulatory Strategy Group (IRSG) and Accenture, we explore the data challenges for ESG Rating providers in the market currently. Our recommendations call for increased clarity, transparency, and global coordination in approach. While some may instinctively shy away from this technical side of the task, the devil is in the detail. The risk otherwise could be accusations of failure to take stakeholder demands seriously, or worse still of ‘greenwashing’.

With the data to hand, businesses can build out their ESG messaging and engagement plans to communicate on the issues that matter to them. This should vary across industries; for energy firms it may be about the efforts to decarbonise, for manufacturing firms it could be supply chain concerns, for pharmaceutical firms the challenges of building a resilient healthcare system for the future. This variety should be welcomed in driving forward purpose-led businesses.

In time, as the ESG agenda matures, we can expect that the acronym will again split out into its constituent parts, with firms facing different timeframes and pressures to address environmental, social and governance concerns. With regulators asking for increased levels of disclosure, the scrutiny that firms are under will also intensify. Communicating on ESG issues with clarity, consistency and credibility will be crucial for firms to transition from just talking the talk to meaningfully walking the walk.

This article appeared in the Cicero/amo February 2022 newsletter.

There is no denying that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had a torrid end to 2021. He was dogged by sleaze scandals and endless rule breaking over No10 parties, topped by record low ratings in the polls. But for a man described as ‘political teflon’, how long can this last and what stands in his way?

With a new team in place, the one thing Johnson needs to grip is policymaking. With the Government in a strange form of stasis, it’s not lost on us that of the 30 Bills announced in last year’s Queen’s Speech, 24 are still progressing through Parliament. We can expect Johnson to carry over some into the next Parliamentary session, but he will need to make progress on his legislative agenda before this session ends. Votes on legislation will ramp up, particularly in the three months from February before the session is due to end in May. Several Bills still making their way through are chunky and not without controversy, including the Health and Care Bill and the Nationality and Borders Bill. With his backbenchers and the public keen to see the country move forward, Johnson will need to start delivering now.

But what else is on the priority list for 2022?

COVID-19: Tackling the pandemic whilst addressing shortages in the NHS and other public services are causing concern and Johnson may be forced to act if he wants to avoid headlines about rubbish left on streets, schools in disarray or more NHS trusts declaring critical incidents. If he introduces any new restrictions, they will require a Parliamentary vote. However, the Prime Minister’s authority will be tested by his own backbenchers as nearly 100 voted against the implementation of Plan B measures, led by the unpredictable Mark Harper and Steve Baker aka the COVID Recovery Group.

Cost of living: This year, domestic issues are on a collision course with international issues as the cost of living rises. Soaring energy bills, rising inflation and empty shelves dominate headlines as businesses deal with increased customs checks post-Brexit. Whether exacerbated by COVID or by inclement weather while no one can agree on a single cause, they can agree on who should find the solution and that is the Government. This is the issue of 2022 and could be the driving factor behind poor local election results for the Conservative Party and the breaking point for many MPs looking to get rid of Johnson.

Leadership challenge: If the above were not enough to deal with, the biggest challenge for

Johnson’s future comes from his own party. If electoral success doesn’t translate at the local elections (May 5), Conservative supporters as well as Conservative MPs will be gunning for Johnson’s head, and we may see this as the trigger point for letters being submitted to the 1922 Committee. But there are risks before then, implementing Michael Gove’s Levelling Up White Paper, could set him down the path of leadership. Same for Liz Truss if she manages to succeed in Brexit negotiations and Rishi Sunak in getting the nations’ finances on track. Conversely, Johnson’s success relies on his Cabinet delivering for him, but that success could be his own undoing. He may seek to front what he can but with dwindling staff, there is a big question on just how many plates he can juggle before it all falls apart.

If you are interested in hearing more from Cicero/amo on what the year has in store for UK politics and legislation, please contact us.

This article appeared in the Cicero/amo February 2022 newsletter.

Sophie-Charlotte Walter

Senior Account Manager

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Tim Davidson

Senior Account Executive

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