What does trust mean when it comes to climate change?

ISO standards are crucial for building trust, demonstrating climate progress and strengthening accountability. 

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Martin Baxter
Deputy CEO, Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), and Chair of ISO subcommittee on environmental management systems (ISO/TC 207/SC 1)

COP28 is the only and best way to find a global solution to the climate crisis. In a world where every challenge takes on global proportions, it is crucial to find global solutions – together. This is no easy feat. We simply cannot fight climate change with a “business as usual” mindset.  

Rising to the challenge will require rethinking the very foundation of our modern world: from the global economy to the global supply chains that underpin it; from the habits of households to the national policies that enable them; all of us must take a leap of faith into a more sustainable future. 

Such momentous change in an increasingly uncertain world requires one thing more than any other: trust. We cannot take a leap of faith without it. Trust is what translates ambition into action. Because it requires organizations to be accountable for the targets they set and the claims they make, so that consumers and investors have tangible assurance that real action is being taken. Creating such trust can be a complex process, but International Standards are a great place to start. 

Building bridges to narrow gaps 

The appetite for climate action is clear. We are seeing unprecedented attendance rates for events like COP and the climate regularly dominates the global agenda. Many countries have ambitions and targets backed by policy, legislation and regulation. However, they still face a severe credibility gap. 

Because effective climate action is about more than just setting targets. That is one side of the coin; the other is about performance and delivering on those targets. This is where a pervasive discrepancy persists. Most organizations – be they governments or companies – struggle to appreciate what meeting their targets actually requires in practice. 

In my experience, this is often due to a lack of financial and material resources, as well as courageous leadership. Transitioning to net-zero technologies and practices requires significant investment, and many organizations simply do not have the resources or policy certainty needed to invest with impact. On the other hand, however, future-proofing our world is nothing if not an exercise in transition management, and we are collectively underestimating the importance of collaboration. Make no mistake: human capital is core to the solution and organizations must invest in the skills needed to carry them through these critical years. 

But most importantly, we must recognize that no single organization, region or country can do this on their own. Collaboration across geographies, industries and practice areas is vital to make supply chains more resilient and business models more sustainable. This means we must speak the same language. A tonne of CO2 should be the same in Africa and in China, and we should have common goals, metrics and terminology to communicate effectively. That is where International Standards must play their role. By laying the foundations for an international architecture based on quality, they can empower all actors to confidently discuss, share and agree on solutions. 

Trust at the core 

Trust is absolutely vital to unlocking transformational change – but this is not always obvious. In my experience, people often do not see how important standards and assurance are in terms of personal and human protection. One example is in our water supply: laboratories and treatment facilities have accredited conformity assessment against International Standards so that water supplies are safe. The same can be said for medical devices and healthcare products, where standards are absolutely vital.  

This ecosystem of standards built on trust is not always understood in the realm of climate action. It works behind the scenes as an invisible net to deliver assurance and credibility. But traditionally, climate assurances have been too narrow in their scope. Focused almost solely on corporate disclosure, it’s time these assurances were directed more broadly at investors, consumers and other stakeholders so that we can activate trust across every facet of climate action.  

Take, for instance, standards on environmental technology verification (ISO 14034) and environmental labelling (ISO 14020 series). These are very powerful in providing public reassurance for products and services used in everyday life. The end game of ISO standards is to make bold and transformative progress for people, planet and prosperity, and climate is a crucial part of this agenda. 

It starts at COP 

As a truly global gathering of leaders from the private and public sectors, COP28 has the potential to be a platform for credible and meaningful change. By creating a foundation for countries the world over, International Standards set the global benchmark to accelerate climate action and make our global initiatives possible.  

This year, I hope to see ISO’s founding principles applied and the power of collaboration, accountability and trust harnessed to tackle the greatest challenge of our time. 


About Martin Baxter 

Martin Baxter is Deputy CEO of IEMA, the world’s largest professional body for sustainability practitioners. He works in the UK and internationally to support the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient and sustainable economy. With a wealth of experience, he has played a key role in shaping environmental policy and standards. Martin is recognized for his leadership in advancing sustainable practices globally, fostering collaboration between businesses, governments and academia. His dedication to driving positive environmental change has cemented his reputation as a thought leader and influencer in the sustainability sector. 

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