It’s not too late: How the private sector can unlock opportunities to change the trajectory of climate change

November 27, 2023 | By Ellen Jackowski

Eight years ago, nearly 200 countries convened in Paris to pledge to slow down the earth’s temperature from climbing to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Today, as we prepare for the 28th United Nations Climate Change conference in Dubai, known as COP28, one thing is clear: We are falling short of our climate change goals.

Early data from the Paris Agreement’s first five-year report on the global response to the climate crisis shows global temperatures may now rise by 2.4 to 2.6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Meanwhile, carbon emissions continue to climb, and more people than ever are experiencing floods, droughts and climate-related food insecurity.

These numbers are a wake-up call. We’ve reached a dire point in history, and there’s an urgent need to course-correct. Luckily, it’s not too late to act. There is still plenty we can do to mitigate emissions and reduce waste, while preserving and protecting nature. In particular, the private sector can play an important role in these efforts.

Companies can make a notable impact by giving consumers ways to embrace sustainable consumption. This is the idea behind prioritizing products and services that minimize impact on the environment over their life span. With its vast network of more than 100 million merchants and with 3 billion cards in circulation, Mastercard sees a world where each swipe, click or tap provides consumers with the option to make choices that help in the fight against climate change. Beyond phasing out first-use, PVC plastic in physical payment cards on our network and making strides to close the loop on their lifecycle, we have a clear opportunity to inspire, inform and enable consumers to make more sustainable choices.

First, consumers must be inspired to make more sustainable choices and be able to comprehend the impact that their purchasing decisions have. Companies can think creatively about motivating and engaging consumers to be more conscious about their consumption, including by rewarding and incentivizing them to make more sustainable choices. In addition, companies can provide consumers with actionable data and information about their purchase options to clearly indicate which products and services are more sustainable. By inspiring and informing more sustainable consumption and by making the more sustainable choice an easy choice, companies help enable lower emissions outcomes from consumers.

One tool we’ve developed that’s making a difference is Mastercard’s Carbon Calculator, powered by the Swedish fintech Doconomy. This tool shows consumers the estimated carbon footprint of purchases they make with their card. With this data in hand, consumers can see where they’re having the greatest climate impact, then make small changes that lead to more mindful spending.

We can also implement nature-based climate solutions like forest restoration. Trees help remove CO2 from the atmosphere and support biodiversity, so working to restore landscapes is critical to a resilient future. Through the Priceless Planet Coalition, Mastercard, Conservation International, World Resources Institute, and our local partners are hard at work to restore 100 million trees.

For such company-led efforts to make a difference, these organizations must put people at the center of climate action, particularly when it comes to supporting climate-vulnerable communities. Embracing inclusive climate action — projects that also make communities more economically resilient — will be another key to making real progress.

For example, in one critical Priceless Planet Coalition project, Conservation International has been working to restore more than 200,000 trees in Cambodia around Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake.

In recent years, in the nets of the Cambodian families who live in the lake’s floating villages, which provide two-thirds of the protein in Cambodians’ diet with the 500,000 tons of fish they catch in a typical year. Revitalizing these forests not only sequesters more carbon, but it can also protect their homes from powerful wind and waves during the wet season and replenish their fisheries, making these communities more economically resilient.

A child plants a seedling at a replanting event in a former rice field near Tonle Sap, which has been known as the "fish factory" of Cambodia. But deforestation, climate change, upstream hydropower dams and overfishing have dramatically reduced the region’s fish populations. (Photo credit: Tangkor Dong/Conservation International)

There are also many lessons to learn from new, sustainability-centric companies that are emerging from and serving climate-vulnerable communities. The Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth supports entrepreneurs who are creating new climate solutions by partnering with innovation ecosystems like the Earthshot Prize and CIFAR Alliance’s Climate Smart Innovation Hub, which help companies scale and achieve broader impact.

Further, our Strive program helps small businesses go digital, get capital, and grow resources and networks. Earlier this month, Mastercard and international humanitarian organization CARE announced Strive Women, a new program that aims to strengthen the financial health and resilience of small, often women-led businesses in Pakistan, Peru and Vietnam.

We know that women are disproportionately impacted by challenges like child care and the climate crisis, and that economic security helps them better manage both. Strive Women will seek to develop methods that can help small business owners balance both household and business cash flow, prepare for and manage financial shocks, and increase women’s decision-making power.

We must continue to make progress. At Mastercard, we’re committed to activating the power of our networks — of businesses, of expert organizations and of individual consumers — to drive collective action in the fight against climate change. Working together, we can build a sustainable and inclusive future.

Ellen Jackowski, chief sustainability officer, Mastercard