“The IPCC report is a code red for humanity.” António Guterres, UN Secretary General
“The IPCC report is a code red for humanity.” António Guterres, UN Secretary General

Scientists are screaming from the rooftops. Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its sixth assessment report. Another stark wake up call for humanity, released during a surreal and apocalyptic summer of extreme weather events across the globe.

It’s the clearest and most comprehensive summary to date of the physical science of climate change. Climate breakdown is here. How far are we willing to let it go?

IPCC Key Messages & Takeaways
IPCC Key Messages & Takeaways

The climate story in brief, is: ‘It’s warming. It’s us. We’re sure. It’s bad. We can fix it.’ We know this. Still, it’s difficult to overstate the significance of this IPCC report; this is THE report, 8 years of work, with hundreds of the world’s leading climate scientists synthesising 14,000 pieces of scientific literature and building on more than three decades of previous research.

In short, their message to the world is: we’re running out of time, fast. Two of the key takeaways from the report? The danger of irreversibility and the crucial reminder that every tonne of carbon counts.

Danger of irreversibility = urgency + agency
Danger of irreversibility = urgency + agency

The urgency of the language used in this latest report helps to relay the group’s starkest warning yet - it’s do or die. The headline of the press release reads “Climate change widespread, rapid, and intensifying.” A large part of what we have done to the planet already cannot be undone (at least for thousands of years) - the task at hand is to not make it any worse.

“Danger of irreversibility. This is the big message from Monday’s new IPCC report. We’re reaching irreversible tipping points that will lead to drastic changes in ecosystems with devastating effects for all life on this planet…Christina Figueres, Global Optimism

“There’s urgency, but there’s also still agency. We can make a difference… We’ve reached a crescendo where the scientific community is literally yelling from the rooftops. The question is, how bad are we willing to let it get?” Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Earth System Science Centre at Penn State University

Rapid Net Zero Transition: Every tonne of carbon counts
Rapid Net Zero Transition: Every tonne of carbon counts

Our time frames have gotten extremely short and every fraction of a degree counts. According to lead authors of the report, this is likely to be the last one from the IPCC while there is still time to stay below 1.5°C of warming (the target set out by previous reports and agreements to avoid catastrophic runaway climate change). The bad news is that we’ve warmed 1.1°C already and, in almost all emission scenarios, are on track to reach the target of 1.5°C by the early 2030s. The closer we stay to 1.5°C by cutting emissions, the more desirable the climate we will be living in. There is still so much worth saving and we have the potential right now to determine how much we save.

“ ‘Every tonne of C02 emissions adds to global warming.’ This statement from the IPCC report should be emblazoned into the minds and hearts of every business leader on the planet. It should be recited at the beginning of every meeting and should guide every decision no exceptions.” Jamie Alexander, Project Drawdown

Next Gen Consumers: The Youth Activist Perspective
Next Gen Consumers: The Youth Activist Perspective

The 2018 IPCC special report (on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C) helped spark the global youth-led climate movement that radically changed the climate conversation. This new report is likely to spark growth in general broad concern for climate and further galvanize activists.

Despair is not an option... Grief, frustration, loss, rage, anger, and all other feelings - for sure... I don't know what will happen, but I refuse to accept the certainty of the future of what we have right now… Revolution is what we need. The dismantling of structures, and re-organising and re-building and a revolution of hearts and minds and imagination of what could be possible...🌻” Josephine Becker

“...the world's top scientists are warning that limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C may slip "beyond reach". Remember. 1.5C is not some meaningless number. Missing that target is a death sentence for millions of people across the world… I had a breakdown reading the last IPCC report. I cried and cried. But within six months, we [Extinction Rebellion] had shut down central London for a fortnight and forced the UK Parliament to declare a climate emergency. Turn your anger into action.” Sam Knights

From tears and despair to rage and hope, across social media emotionally-rich language is paired with empowered, action-oriented calls to action. Mass grieving is in process, but this widespread grief is quickly being channelled into creative, community and action-oriented responses.

The Irish Marketing & Advertising Industry: Rising Up To The Challenge
The Irish Marketing & Advertising Industry: Rising Up To The Challenge

Hearing from members of the Irish marketing and advertising industry on their take on the IPCC findings, there is rising ambition and demand for action within the creative communications sector broadly. We recognise that we have a crucial role to play as creative communicators - plus there are enormous benefits to seeing our collective sense of responsibility and agency translate into radical and transformative work, for ourselves and for our clients.

Abi Moran
Abi Moran
CEO, Folk Wunderman Thompson

"Brands are uniquely placed to have a genuine impact on this intensifying crisis. How a brand communicates with its audience - what it says and how it says it sets the rules for responsible consumption and usage. If every carbon tonne counts, then every interaction with a consumer counts too. As terrifying and alarming as this news is, we must see past the climate doom, dig deep and allow our unique ability to drive culture and change behaviour to prevail, driving a new era of growth - one which no longer does harm to our planet." Abi Moran, CEO, Folk Wunderman Thompson

Colette Henry
Colette Henry
Strategic Communications Director, Rothco

“The communications industry is filled with smart people who create campaigns that convince, persuade, surprise, and ultimately change attitudes and behaviours. Essentially, we are in the business of change at a time when the scientific community is telling us colossal change is needed; we have never had a more important opportunity to use our skills for good.” Colette Henry, Strategy Director, Rothco and Co-Founder of Purpose Disruptors Ireland

Sorcha Hanratty
Sorcha Hanratty
Senior Account Director, Boys + Girls

“The IPCC report confirmed our worst fears and, I hope, will lead to drastic action globally. Marketeers have a key role to play. We need to be the voice of the consumer in our company or agency, holding brands accountable because our customers will. The report is stark and scary, people can easily feel helpless and want to tune out. How can we change the narrative to be more positive and hopeful while remaining realistic?” Sorcha Hanratty, Senior Account Director, Boys + Girls

Thomas Geoghegan
Thomas Geoghegan
Senior Strategist, PHD Media

“Media agencies will be playing a bigger role in planning greener campaigns by choosing more sustainable channels, but the more exciting part will be agencies taking this further, working more closely with brands to deepen our collective contribution to reducing carbon emissions by re-shaping broader business and culture towards a 1.5 degree world.” Thomas Geoghegan, Senior Strategist, PHD Media and Co-Founder of Purpose Disruptors Ireland

“Brands & agencies have an extraordinary opportunity to be a leading voice for driving & influencing this force for change on 3 massive fronts. Firstly, in the way we work with our clients brands to simply say no to what goes against our intrinsic sustainable values & beliefs; secondly, in the way we influence politicians to force real policy changes; and lastly in creating the great awakening across the public masses of consumer to make purchasing decisions that affect these goals. We must truly abandon greed, the lure of money, power & politics and take the greatest aspects of human nature while we believe that in every crisis, there is an opportunity to build something better, before it’s too late.” Gavin Downes, Deputy MD, Neon and Co-Founder SX21 - The Sustainability Summit.

Cormac McCann
Cormac McCann
Creative Director, Pluto

"Green sheen fades over time, consumers are demanding greater transparency of brand’s eco credentials. Agencies that advocate positive action can benefit the climate and the client." Cormac McCann, Creative Director, Pluto

Eimear Fitzmaurice
Eimear Fitzmaurice
Strategic Planning Director, Folk Wunderman Thompson

“This week I sat in a focus group and on the issue of the crisis, a young woman shared the exhaustion she felt, carrying the weight of the world’s future on her shoulders - speaking of how she wills for this to be a problem shared. This is the implication for brands - share the issue - dramatically reduce your carbon and then help consumers reduce theirs. Brands don’t live in a parallel universe to consumers - we share one planet in which everyone must change, urgently. Existing to create value for the consumer and the planet is the only way forward.” Eimear Fitzmaurice, Strategic Planning Director, Folk Wunderman Thompson and Co-Founder of Purpose Disruptors Ireland

Of course, many agencies are accelerating action in this space with new measurement tools, service offerings and creative solutions, exemplifying powerful ways these shared ambitions for change can be realised.

Chloe Hanratty
Chloe Hanratty
Head Of Strategic Planning at Publicis Dublin

“For brands and businesses, growth at any cost is no longer an acceptable or logical strategy. Commerciality and sustainable practices will become increasingly linked as consumers vote with their feet - and while previous generations of customers might still as yet be uninfluenced by the reality of climate change in their purchase decisions, the families and adults of tomorrow will be sticking to their principles when it comes to choosing brands. Brands who start the work needed now will benefit from growth in the long-run. Agencies who don’t encourage their clients to move in this direction will be doing them a disservice.” Chloe Hanratty, Head of Strategic Planning, Publicis Dublin

Emma O'Doherty
Emma O'Doherty
Chief Client Officer, Mindshare

“The IPCC report makes for stark reading and it cries out for action; action at scale that must be led by corporations and governments. Business growth has an impact - a societal impact, a planetary impact, and we are more aware of this than at any point in history. In advertising we are often accused of fuelling consumption without regard for the planet, but we are now facing into how we can assist both our own organisations and our clients deliver action. SEAI, Champion Green, FoodCloud, Bord Gáis Energy, and Unilever are just some of our clients who are pushing the agenda. In Mindshare our newly launched Good Growth positioning calls out media with intention – ensuring the media planning decisions we are making do no harm to people or the planet.

We launched #changethebrief to challenge ourselves to incorporate sustainability solutions into responses to client briefs and this is now being used industry wide. We are supporting the roll out of the Carbon Planning Tool, which will allow us to measure the carbon footprint of media plans. Mindshare is also actively involved in WPP’s stated commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions in its operations by 2025 and across its entire supply chain by 2030, with media making up the largest element of that supply chain.” Emma O’Doherty, Chief Client Officer, Mindshare

Jenny Paetzold
Jenny Paetzold
Managing Partner at McCann Dublin

“As creative agencies, we have a moral imperative to behave as active and progressive corporate citizens in the fight against climate change. We have found more and more of our clients are asking for our leadership in sustainability commitments.This means thinking strategically, having a science-based strong point-of-view and a record of action that creates measurable outcomes. We take our commitment to measurable outcomes so seriously that we recently changed the McCann Dublin company constitution to place equal emphasis on our people, the planet and profit.

This means we are legally required to consider the impact of our decisions on all of our stakeholders. McCann Worldgroup has also recently launched a Global Sustainability practice, and are actively establishing and building out sustainability partnerships with each of our clients.Jenny Paetzold, Managing Partner, McCann Dublin

Jane McDaid
Jane McDaid
Founder & Head of Creative Innovation, THINKHOUSE

“Our industry’s moving too slow. To drive fast action around the climate, what is a useful motivator to drive agencies and marketers into action? Coming together right now is hugely important, but we’ve also got to play to our strengths. We’re conditioned to believe that success is about ‘beating the competition’ - it’s in our DNA and it’s a large part of what connects us.

Now that the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been, perhaps now it’s about asking ourselves - ‘how can our agency harness this competitiveness in the best way?’ ...How can our agency have the lightest impact on the planet by reducing our carbon more quickly than anyone else? How can our agency, through our gift of creativity, help drive cultural change more effectively than anyone else? Maybe a little healthy competition could benefit the health of us all. Game on.” Jane McDaid, Founder and Head of Creative Innovation, THINKHOUSE

Business Implications & What COP26 could bring
Business Implications & What COP26 could bring

“It should provide a reset and baseline from which we come together...There should be a ‘before this report’ and ‘after this report’.” Tom Rivett-Carnac, Global Optimism

At the end of the day there's no denying that gaps still exist in the business world - commitment gaps and implementation gaps. Could the IPCC report be the tipping point for action that’s needed? Climate-minded leaders in the business world are sharing suggestions of how governments should get businesses to facilitate transformative action in the run up to COP26 this November. Some business leaders are advocating for the introduction of mandatory sustainability audits of businesses - for example, in the same way that any UK company with more than £10m turnover has to have an independent audit on their financials (which is shared with the authorities, and if the company is public then this is shared publicly), the same could be true for measuring a company's environmental impact.

Elsewhere, Christina Figueres (who led the Paris Agreement negotiations) wrote at Global Optimism about how most of us are not meeting the challenge of our time and highlights the mental boundaries holding us back from taking action:

In light of the stark warning from the IPCC this week - and indeed from nature herself - the correct response must be to break through the mental boundaries that are now preventing us from doing what is necessary: exponentially scaling all solutions, and stopping emissions from entering our atmosphere… We are going to have to pull out, from deep within ourselves, extraordinary strength and endurance now. We have to go far beyond what we think we can achieve, at speed.”

Figueres articulates the serious need to tackle the mentality of marginal improvement over drastic change, pointing to the interconnection between our internal and external challenges. Policy and ethics intersect. This mental battle - elements of which are reflected in the emotionally-rich comments above by youth - is one that every business will have to overcome to respond to this moment adequately, with dramatic action.

Takeouts for Agencies & Brands
Takeouts for Agencies & Brands

“We don’t know how this movie is going to end, because we’re in the writers room right now. We’re making the decisions right now. Walking out is not an option. We don’t get to give up. This planet is the only home we’ll ever have. There’s no place like it. And home is always, always, always worth it.” Mary Annaïse Heglar, climate justice writer.

Action on climate has rapidly become an ethical and business imperative, but there are gaping holes in our collective response. This is the greatest threat and challenge we’ve ever faced. We know from the Covid-19 experience that daunting challenges can be met - and in emergencies like this, they need to be met without procrastination or life will suffer more greatly. The cost of doing nothing is inconceivable. When you look plainly at the options facing us today, climate action is the obvious ‘bargain’. We are the last generation to be able to save the future of our planet as the window for action shrinks by the day.

It’s important to recognise that climate impacts are relevant to every sector of our lives and businesses. We need to be talking about this more, and businesses everywhere, of all sizes and from all industries, need to take increasingly substantial action. Anyone can decide to be a leader that the world needs right now. B Corp Europe has published 7 ways businesses can take action to address the climate crisis. These include:

  • Measure & manage your impact on people & planet
  • Decarbonize your business operations as much and as quickly as possible
  • Adopt stakeholder governance to ensure you're accountable to prioritizing the planet in your business decisions
  • Use your platform to push governments towards enacting policy change that holds all companies accountable to the planet
  • Center justice & people in your climate action, especially the most vulnerable and most affected by the climate crisis
  • Partner with other businesses & organizations to take collective action for the planet
  • Commit to using the SDGs as a blueprint to an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative future

As architects of desire, the creative communications industry specifically has huge responsibility and powerful cultural tools to draw from. We are in the business of creating change. Our work can help create society which science says we need to be living in. As a creative you can start by:

  • Breaking the ‘eco-chamber.’ Read the report and raise related challenges and opportunities at meetings - from briefings to board meetings. Ensuring your leaders and team are climate competent is also a crucial step.
  • Joining growing communities like Purpose Disruptors Ireland (working to reshape the advertising and marketing communications industry to only promote attitudes, lifestyles, behaviours and brands aligned with a net zero world by 2030) or Clean Creatives (bringing together leading agencies, their employees, and clients to address the ad and PR industry’s work with fossil fuels).
  • Exploring tools like #ChangeTheBrief and Ecoeffectiveness.
  • Getting AdGreen certified.
Laura Costello
Laura Costello
Strategy Director, Purpose & Planet, THINKHOUSE

If you’re struggling with the report personally or feeling stuck, take inspiration from youth activists and turn your grief into joy through action and conversation. No matter where you are on the journey, open your heart and mind to this moment. What could our collective ‘after’ this report look like?

Written & collated By Laura Costello, Strategy Director, Purpose & Planet, THINKHOUSE and Co-Founder of Purpose Disruptors Ireland.

*A version of this article originally appeared as part of The Youth Lab (THINKHOUSE’s insights, strategy and planning division) 52INSIGHTS weekly newsletter.