Standards create change faster

Climate change is happening fast. The world does not have time to prevaricate. But ISO standards can help us make the right policies and speed up the pace. 

Few minutes to read
Published on
This is the title
Zakiah Kassam
President, AirVironment Canada Inc., and Chair-elect, ISO/TC 207, Environmental management

World War II made an indelible mark on the world. As fighting ceased in 1945, the world was in dire need of rebuilding and reformation at an unprecedented scale. ISO was one of the key global organizations to rise from the ashes to do exactly that. Today, it can once again help the world reform to address another existential threat: climate change. 

As policymakers gather in Dubai to discuss how to accelerate climate action, a good place to start is with the reminder that standards are a powerful tool. 

Standards provide us with the assurance that change is both real and meaningful. They ensure results and help cut through any potential greenwashing. They also make change happen at speed. Enacting laws and implementing policies for climate action can take years – and we don’t have years. Using standards can get us there faster, by reducing the time it takes to design and implement government policies. 

COP28 is a key checkpoint on the global climate trajectory. As a united front, we need to act together in three key areas: the curbing of emissions, risk planning and financing. Standards are our most effective tool in driving action on all three. 

Standards can supercharge our climate efforts 

It is paramount that organizations clearly report on their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and their progress on reducing them. Standards are helping to guide the development of greenhouse gas inventories, which comprehensively list GHG volumes and where they come from. As such, they are an effective tool as we work to curb emissions, because they demand verifiable evidence. This bolsters trust that climate action is action and not just rhetoric. 

This trust also allows the world to break the limits of convention when it comes to risk planning. This is important because climate change risks differ from other risks. Conventional approaches that use statistical probabilities may not be effective, and climate change impacts can have a chain of knock-on effects. ISO standards detail best-practice approaches for undertaking climate change risk and vulnerability assessments. 

Local governments and communities facing climate change impacts need plans for adaptation, but may not always have the resources to deliver or update them. ISO standards provide a policy planning roadmap. They demonstrate how to partner the right business units with the right stakeholders to tackle key risks and set out priorities. ISO standards can also help to guide meaningful reporting and communication on adaptation. 

But risk isn’t the only barrier. A lack of material resources is a challenge, and financing is a major hurdle. Standards can help here, too. 

More than USD 4.2 trillion of clean energy investment is required in 2030 to get us to net-zero emissions. Governments are expected to finance approximately 30 % of that through a combination of low-cost loans, grants and cheap financing. 

A key challenge for governments setting up support for green energy programmes is the risk of spending taxpayer’s cash and not getting the desired results. Nothing dents public confidence like wasted money. 

ISO provides a ready-to-implement structure that helps governments to define their criteria for eligible projects and establish performance metrics. The ISO green debt instruments series of standards (ISO 14030), for example, specifies requirements to ensure the integrity of green bonds and loans, includes a taxonomy for eligible projects, and sets out requirements for a verification programme.  

When it comes to the complexities of grants to support climate resilience initiatives, ISO also has a best-practice standard that can help governments design a grant mechanism quickly and effectively. ISO 14093, the ISO standard relating to performance-based climate resilience grants, is based on the United Nations Capital Development Fund’s local climate adaptive living (LoCAL) mechanism. This ISO standard provides guidance on how to design a national system for local adaptation financing and includes minimum conditions to ensure financial safeguards and a menu of eligible adaptation investments that can promote climate resilience.  

The power of ISO and public partners 

Public agencies wield substantial influence over markets thanks to their sizable project procurement budgets. Harnessing this influence strategically has the power to shape industry behaviour. Public agencies can incorporate contractual requirements that build on ISO standards and the ISO conformity assessment system. 

Integrating ISO standards can help in setting procurement rules for purchasing goods and services in a way that advances climate action. Any policymaker wanting to drive positive change quickly needs to begin by thinking of standards. 

Because without standards, there can be no improvement.  


About Zakiah Kassam

Zakiah Kassam is Chair of the ISO technical committee on environmental management for the 2024-2026 term and a member of the Governing Council of the Standards Council of Canada (SCC). She is the President of AirVironment Canada, and a Senior Associate of the Boxfish Infrastructure Group. Zakiah has more than 20 years of professional experience spanning the energy, infrastructure and environmental sectors. She holds a B.Eng. from McGill University, an M.Eng. from the University of Calgary, an MBA from the University of Toronto and an LLM in Environmental and Natural Resources Law from the University of London. 

¿Hablas español?

Este artículo se puede descargar en versión PDF.




Press contact

Journalist, blogger or editor?

Want to get the inside scoop on standards, or find out more about what we do? Get in touch with our team or check out our media kit.