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Reuters rep: Climate inaction could lead to human rights lawsuits for businesses and states

The Sustainability Forum 2023 will take place at the FinTech and Sustainable Innovation Centre Rockit on Tuesday, 25 April. Representatives of Lithuanian and foreign institutions, businesses, investors and sustainability startups will share experiences and discuss the importance of sustainable innovation for countries to achieve the climate change goals of the Paris Agreement.

“Climate change is becoming an increasingly acute issue, both because of the lack of progress being made and the short time we have to prevent irreversible developments. We must act together to achieve our climate change goals, and sustainable innovation will play an important role in this process. The aim of this forum is therefore to bring together the startup ecosystem, industry leaders, experts and policymakers to discuss the key challenges, share experiences and foster partnerships and collaborations to work together for breakthroughs in achieving the sustainability goals,” says Lina Žemaitytė-Kirkman, Head of Rockit.

Lina Zemaityte - Kirkman, Head of ROCKIT

Three of the most progressive sustainable innovators will be selected

The forum will also announce the winners of Swedbank’s three-month-long Sustainable Innovation Programme, aimed to help early-stage startups develop their ideas into sustainable business solutions.

“For three months, 16 startups developed their sustainable innovation ideas for a range of business sectors – from industry and transport to energy and real estate. We are eager to see the final presentations of the participants and to announce which of these ideas will be considered as the most progressive and having the most potential by the experts. The selected winners will move on to the second stage of the programme, where the innovative solutions will be tested in real-life conditions, in cooperation with the country’s businesses,” says Donatas Šumyla, Head of Swedbank Startup Partnership.

According to him, Swedbank initiated the Sustainable Innovation Programme in order to encourage the development of sustainability innovations for businesses in Lithuania. “More and more businesses set sustainability goals for their operations, want to reduce their environmental impact and look for more sustainable solutions. The coming regulation and stricter requirements will only strengthen this trend. Therefore, the demand for sustainable innovation is growing globally, and we want Lithuanian startups to shift their focus on this growing niche and innovate in it,” says Mr. Šumyla.

Donatas Sumyla, Head of Swedbank Startup Partnership

Expert: Achieving the Paris Agreement goals is possible

Sharon Kimathi, ESG and Energy Editor at Reuters, who will be attending the Sustainability Forum in Vilnius, argues that in order to reach the 1.5°C limit set by the Paris Agreement, we need to make a change now. “We don’t have much time – we need to act now. The good news is that we can still achieve this target if we act quickly and if companies integrate ESG targets into their structures, strategies and operating models,” says Ms. Kimathi.

She says that experts around the world are making various projections about what will happen if we exceed the global warming limit. For example, if the temperature rises by 2.1°C or 2.7°C.

“If we don’t meet the Paris Agreement target, we will have to find ways to adapt, both for ourselves and for future generations to live on the planet. At the same time, we will also have to find ways to limit the damage caused by global warming,” comments Ms. Kimathi.

As for priority actions, she mentions accelerating the transition to renewable energy. It is good news that renewable energy capacity increased by 9.6% last year. However, various analyses show that, unfortunately, the growth should be three times faster.

Another positive sign, according to Ms. Kimathi, is that new technological solutions are emerging to help address environmental problems. For example, air pollution trapping devices. Such projects are being actively developed in the US and also in Asia.

Ignoring climate change violates human rights

According to the expert, it is important to understand that the 1.5°C climate change target must be seen not only as an environmental issue but also as an issue of social responsibility and governance.

“We need to look at the climate crisis holistically, through all the E, S and G domains, because they are linked. As we can see from various global reports, the climate crisis is increasingly being seen through the prism of human rights – through the threat to human health. As a result, governments and businesses that ignore the problem and avoid taking the necessary decisions in this area are increasingly being held legally accountable, with climate change cases being brought alleging human rights violations,” states Ms. Kimathi.

She cites the example of a lawsuit brought by a group of Swiss activists before the European Court of Human Rights against the Swiss Government, which is accused of violating human rights for failing to respond adequately to the climate crisis and to meet its commitments. Heat waves have been increasing and intensifying as a result of climate change, and they have been affecting health and quality of life. The protest was launched by Swiss Senior Women for Climate Protection, a group of 2 000 Swiss women aged over 64 and four women aged between 80 and 90.

Researchers at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment have noted in their snapshot that the number of climate change cases has doubled since 2015, reaching 2 000. Around a quarter of these cases have been brought between 2020 and 2022. While the majority of cases related to climate change commitments made by governments, in recent years the number of cases has also increased in relation to fossil fuel energy companies, food, agriculture, transport, plastics and financial sector businesses.

According to Ms. Kimathi, Reuters also captures other social or governance issues that are holding back progress on climate change. For example, reports document the exploitation of child labour in the global supply chains of some US renewable energy businesses.

“These situations undermine our ability to meet our climate goals because they undermine the communities that can help us achieve them. Social and governance aspects are therefore crucial to addressing the environmental crisis,” Ms. Kimathi comments on the findings of Reuters analyses.

Ms. Kimathi will elaborate about ESG issues and various analyses at the Sustainability Forum 2023. In addition, the forum will feature presentations and discussions by various other Lithuanian and foreign experts, including representatives of eEstonia, participants from the Ministry of Finance or the Ministry of Economy and Innovation, business representatives from Ignitis Group, Swedbank, Eastnine, Schneider Electric, as well as panellists from investors Katalista Ventures, Honey Badger Capital, the Lithuanian Business Angel Fund, representatives of startups Walk15, Mindletic, Single.Earth and Lectrium, and other participants.

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