Business climate action in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

18 Nov 2021

A call for board-level climate action in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, CCE and IoD webinar, 29 October 2021

Insights from a panel discussion on 29th October 2021, co-hosted by the Centre for Climate Engagement (CCE) and the Institute of Directors (IoD) East of England to raise awareness amongst local business leaders of recommendations within the first full report from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Commission on Climate (CPICC).

For the full recording, please click here, or watch the video at the end of this event summary.


As highlighted in the CPICC’s full report published in October 2021, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough region has 25% higher greenhouse gas emissions than the UK average and is an area particularly at risk to the impacts of climate change, including more frequent and severe flooding events, water shortages and higher than average temperature rises. If the region continues producing emissions at its present rate, there are only six years left until it has used up its emissions allowance to 2050, as set out in the UK’s Net Zero target.

Climate action is urgently needed

As part of its report, the CPICC published a series of recommendations to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPA) in October which focus on the just transition and topics including business and industry.  This webinar convened a panel of commissioners and advisers to the CPICC to raise awareness amongst local business leaders to the risks and opportunities of climate change, with the ultimate goal to accelerate climate action in the region.

Panel line-up:
Introduction by Biplab Rakshi, IoD East of England Chair
Moderated by: Emily Farnworth, Co-Director at the Centre for Climate Engagement, Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge
Keynote Speaker: Baroness Brown of Cambridge, Professor Dame Julia King, Chair of the CPICC, Chair of the Carbon Trust and Vice Chair of the Committee on Climate Change.
Dame Polly Courtice DBE, LVO, Founder Director of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and Non-Executive Director of Anglian Water Services.
Lynne Sullivan OBE, architect and member of the CLC Green Construction Board, Chair of the Good Homes Alliance and Board member of the Passivhaus Trust and the Active Building Centre.
Adrian Gault OBE, Chief Economist at the Committee on Climate Change and adviser to the CPICC.

Top takeaways:

  1. SMEs require more visibility of, and better access to, the plentiful resources available to help decarbonize emissions and facilitate the just transition.
  2. Businesses need to have a climate action plan: they need to understand the relevant benchmarks, and be specific in climate targets and reporting.
  3. There is an opportunity for the region to become an ecohub – the region has strong digital and IT sectors, and a significant opportunity for more green jobs with envirotech companies developing in the region.

Main discussion:

What are the key things businesses should be thinking about?

The net-zero opportunity

Businesses in the region have a ‘spectrum of opportunity’ offered by the net-zero transition. They must understand and consider those areas of economic growth that will accompany the transition in order to optimise benefits in a net-zero future. The retrofit of buildings, for example, provides an opportunity for more green jobs in the region, however the materials and skills required for this are not yet readily available.

Infrastructure, buildings and transport

The infrastructure and buildings sector is a key area that requires a significant reduction in emissions both locally and nationally. Buildings should not only be viewed as the physical structure. The interconnectivity between them is just as important. It is widely known that public transport in the region needs significant development to improve this interconnectivity. Businesses should account for this when considering transport for their suppliers as well as their employees’ travel to work, to best measure and account for their scope 1, 2 & 3 emissions.

Tools and resources

There is a vast library of resources and tools for businesses in the area to make the first step towards decarbonizing their emissions and reducing their carbon footprint, but these must become more easily accessible.

“We should all start with efficiency and using less – resource and energy efficiency are the first steps businesses can take which will always save money.

Dame Julia King

How do businesses create interesting jobs for young people?

To attract and engage young talent, companies need to be transparent with their plans and commit to an agenda which takes climate change into consideration. Young people are keen to contribute to the climate agenda, and the opportunities organisations can provide in the form of skills and jobs delivering a just transition are exciting. Businesses need to be open to the innovative thinking and different perspectives young people provide which can help to develop  business resilience and ensure its long-term future.

“Businesses need to project their purpose and be genuine. Young people are extremely good at spotting greenwash.”

Dame Polly Courtice

What is the role of boards in the region to take a leadership position on business climate action?

It is crucial for boards to become educated on the implications of the changing climate. Boards need to look beyond their financial results and recognize the resilience and long-term sustainability of their company will be affected by climate change. There is a long way to go before climate is a mainstream topic on the board agenda. However, as companies are increasingly advised to report climate risks to investors, this topic will become more influential to boardroom decisions.

Multinational companies require their global supply chains to decarbonise in order to achieve their net-zero commitments. The precedent set by these companies will have a cascading effect down to the local SMEs, who will have to take similar considerations into account to ensure the resilience of their business. Local businesses shouldn’t be deterred by this prospect: as global supply chains must decarbonise, those local businesses embedding climate action will not be undercut by cheaper emission-heavy services abroad. The resources required to enable the net-zero transition exist, they must now be made more accessible to the SMEs.

This is really an opportunity rather than a disadvantage. Local businesses will not be undercut by products and services abroad as companies require their global supply chains to commit to net-zero also.”

Dame Julia King

What is the role of local and national government in getting the right support for business?

Local businesses are best supported by their local councils rather than the national government. The UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy, while it is world leading, lacks the provision of funding for local areas. There is recognition that local authorities are important in supporting SMEs through the net zero transition, with the department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) setting up a local net zero forum where the central government will listen to local voices. The funding for local powers however is missing. The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPA) is encouraged to review and use its borrowing power to issue a green bond. This could provide the local support needed to guide SMEs through the transition, with the first step to make resources already in existence readily available and accessible.

“The provision of finances towards the net-zero transition should be regarded as an investment which has a worthwhile return. There are several simple actions businesses can take that have a short and quick payback period. There is a role for the CPA to improve access and pull together the resources for SMEs to take these crucial steps.”

Adrian Gault
Further information for businesses:

Business in the Community Climate Action resources.

For SMEs:

  • Visit the SME Climate Hub supporting for access to free tools and resources tailored to supporting the net zero journey. :
  • Free online training for SMEs: Climate Fit, developed by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership (CISL) and Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), offers a step-by-step training plan for SMEs to reduce carbon emissions and take action towards the collective race to net zero.
Event Video: