COMMENT: The ISO’s London Declaration is a key step towards helping government and industry meet carbon-free ambitions, writes Scott Steedman, Director of Standards at the British Standards Institution
As the world meets at COP26 to discuss the urgent actions governments, industry and society must take to tackle climate change, the international standards community has launched its own supporting initiative. The London Declaration, signed in September by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), commits member bodies all over the world to ensure that international standards will accelerate the transition to net zero. BSI, as the UK National Standards Body and original proposer of the declaration, was the first ISO member to add its signature.
Although there are an increasing number of net-zero corporate commitments and government targets, there is a lack of real direction for business leaders as to how these targets can be met. Analysis by sustainable finance firm Arabesque published earlier this year states that fewer than 25% of the world’s big public companies are on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Governments and industry need clear, practical guidance to meet their net-zero ambitions. Common standards adopted worldwide could make a substantial contribution to provide that guidance and accelerate progress.
The international standards system, which uses national delegations organised through national standards bodies to develop consensus best practice, is a trusted, global framework that can deliver real, practical change through the promotion of common approaches to solving complex problems.
Strong governance builds trust with governments and consumers that standards can provide an alternative to regulation
International standards are technology-agnostic and patent-free and used by organisations, supply chains and governments worldwide to improve performance, manage risks and support the delivery of regulatory policy.
The international standards process brings together all relevant stakeholders to capture good practice and to agree the best way to do something. Much of the work is on technical specifications, but increasingly the process is being used to reach consensus on business issues, such as anti-bribery, occupational health and safety, or environmental management. Strong governance in the process builds trust with governments and consumers that standards can provide an alternative to regulation or be used to support simpler regulation.
The size and reach of the global standards community could drive positive environmental outcomes in the real economy at pace and at scale. There are 24,000 international standards, overseen by hundreds of international and national committees. These standards form a substantial proportion of the catalogue of national standards in countries all over the world, including the UK.
There has been growing interest for over a decade in using standards to help industries and governments improve environmental performance and accelerate their net-zero climate goals. The ISO Committee on Sustainable Finance was set up in 2018 and has published new standards for financial institutions to embed sustainability across their operations using common terminology and principles. Standards are supporting the deployment of renewable energy technology and the reduction of emissions. The UK government’s Faraday battery challenge includes a standards programme led by BSI that will support the rapid scale-up of new manufacturing capability.
The idea that common standards adopted by countries globally will accelerate the achievement of climate goals is at the heart of the recent London Declaration. In practice, the declaration will trigger a formal process of reviewing existing international standards and ensuring that new and revised standards consider climate science, the impact on the Sustainable Development Goals and the outcome of the resilience and adaptation agendas.
There is a growing recognition of the importance of diversity and inclusivity in the international standards process, known in ISO as “all voices heard”. BSI hosts the Consumer and Public Interest Network, which provides a consumer voice in standards development, and is creating a new Sustainability Standards Network to strengthen the voices of environmental, and non-governmental organisations on BSI committees.
There has never been a more important time for consensus best practice standards
It is vital that the voices heard in standards-making include the voices of those who will be most affected by climate change. This will be reinforced through the implementation of the London Declaration and builds on BSI’s work through the Commonwealth Standards Network, which we set up in 2018 to raise awareness and build capacity in developing nations to participate fully in the international standards system.
There has never been a more important time for consensus best practice standards that can respond to the global challenges of today, building trust and resilience and accelerating industry’s transition to a more sustainable world.
The imperative of climate action is poised to revolutionise how business is done around the world and has become one of the two principal strategic drivers of our work, alongside digital transformation, developing and maintaining international standards to support government, industry and society in the decade ahead. The door is open. Business leaders, experts, consumer and environmental organisations who want to influence the standards that will underpin the global net-zero economy should get in touch.
Dr Scott Steedman CBE is Director-General, Standards at BSI is currently Vice-President (Policy) of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).