Earth Overshoot Day
In 2020, I started to pen an annual letter to mark Earth Overshoot Day – the point in any given year, when humanity’s demand for ecological resources exceeds what Earth can regenerate. When writing the last two editions, my outlook was starkly shaped by the pandemic. It was hoping for an eventual return to a “normal” year, with climate change and nature firmly back at the top of our global agenda. As I write this year’s letter, we are, in most parts of the world, “living with” the pandemic. Yet, in addition, the Russian war against Ukraine is ravaging Europe’s granary, while energy prices are soaring, stagflation is gripping, supply chains are fragile, and food security challenges are set to retain their hold on global communities for months, if not years, to come.
Navigating the ‚Zeitenwende‘
We are in the midst of what the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has called ‚Zeitenwende‘ – a turning point at which globalization as we know it may be over. An epochal change of dominating paradigms appears imminent. And I am sure that this global political situation will make it significantly more difficult to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2030. Last year we saw clear steps backwards, for example on the issues of poverty and hunger.
Particularly regarding food security, we must act to avoid a humanitarian disaster. We must all play a role, and as a global leader in agriculture, we as Bayer are activating our resources and networks to address three key priority areas: supporting Ukrainian farmers, stabilizing supply in the Middle East and East Africa, and ensuring long-term climate-adaptability. As we navigate this crisis, we cannot forget how interlinked the challenges are. While Putin’s invasion of Ukraine means that wheat and oilseeds cannot be effectively harvested, processed, and exported, the dependence of many countries on these imports exists because climate conditions make it (increasingly) impossible for them to grow much themselves. War or peace, we need to stay focused on climate action!
History has shown that even in the most somber geopolitical crises, an unwavering commitment to our climate is possible. Let us not forget that it was during the Cold War that the Montreal Protocol banned the production and emission of ozone-depleting substances used as refrigerants and propellants. 35 years later, we cannot afford any hesitation toward a net-zero carbon economy.
Tangible and transparent sustainability progress
Last year, I published this letter on July 29th and concluded by writing: “I sincerely hope that I can tell you about further advances at our company in my 2022 letter – hopefully, at a later point in the year.” Unfortunately, the latter did not become a reality. While the date has at least not moved forward, it has stagnated. However, the former has materialized, and I am glad to share some of the tangible progress we have made at Bayer over the past 12 months:
- In 2021, we reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 11.5% and are on track to become climate-neutral in our own operations by 2030. At the same time, all three divisions grew dynamically. This means that we have decoupled growth and CO2 emissions.
- Across the divisions, we reached an additional 7.5 million people in the context of our sustainability targets.
- Our carbon farming initiative creates a significant impact. Since the first launch in the U.S. and Brazil in 2020, we are now supporting 2,600 farmers in ten countries, leading to a carbon sequestration of about 500,000 tons and, in parallel, increases the profitability for the farmers. In addition, in 2021, we launched the India Sustainable Rice initiative. The dry-seeded Arize® hybrid is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 19% (methane). Moreover, the approach tackles water scarcity and can improve the income of smallholders.
- We cannot achieve sufficient progress on our most pressing challenges like climate change by merely redistributing resources or foregoing consumption on a micro level. We need to innovate today to create the solutions for tomorrow’s challenges. That rationale is why our R&D expenditure is unmatched: Bayer’s annual investment of 2 billion euros in Crop Science R&D alone is nearly double the spend of our next closest peers. These investments are directly aligned with the pursuit of our sustainability objectives.
- In addition to the existing Sustainability Council, Bayer established a dedicated ESG committee in its Supervisory Board. The committee advises and monitors the management team on how sustainability is integrated into the business strategy.
- The rating organization CDP (formerly known as the “Carbon Disclosure Project”) once again named Bayer among the leading international companies in the climate category, awarding it the highest rating of “A”. Thanks to verifiable measures implemented to combat climate change, Bayer is regarded as a global leader when it comes to ambition, action and transparency. In addition, Bayer achieved an “A-“ in water issues and a “B” for forest protection.
- The LEAF Coalition (Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance) – of which Bayer is a founding member – announced around COP26 that it had mobilized 1 billion USD for countries committed to increasing ambition to protect tropical and sub-tropical forests and reduce deforestation. The mobilization kicked off the largest-ever public-private effort to protect tropical forests. Reversing deforestation is essential to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and for any pathway to a 1.5-degree future.
- This coalition is only one example of how crucial partnerships are to advance sustainability. Bayer also collaborates with bilateral and multilateral development banks around the globe in an effort to support the SDGs and the reduction of poverty and hunger worldwide.
- Bayer advocates for innovation-friendly policy approaches and regulatory frameworks that promote the development and use of low carbon and carbon neutral products, processes and business models that also strengthen competitiveness. To ensure full transparency and good governance around these efforts, we published the first Bayer Industry Association Climate Review in 2021, which will be updated every two years going forward.
- Bayer is a partner of the “RUN BLUE” campaign led by water advocate, adventurer and athlete Mina Guli. Mina will run approximately 200 marathons worldwide until the UN Water Decade Conference in New York City in March 2023. She wants to mobilize people and companies around the world and raise awareness about the critical role of water. The protection of all natural resources – including water – is an integral part of Bayer’s commitment to sustainable development.
I am proud of these milestones, which continue to cement our sustainability leadership as a company with close to 100,000 employees and operations in 80+ countries. Yet, it is equally clear that much more is needed – from us at Bayer, the industry, and the global community. With our planet, there is no comparative advantage of undercutting one another – whether that is between companies, countries or continents. No matter how you look at it, the reality remains that until the end of the year, we are effectively taking out a collective resource mortgage that we cannot repay.
The UN SDGs for 2030 were set up in 2015. So, the halftime mark for the achievement came and went this summer; and progress is humbling. Let’s make sure that the final leg is stronger than the first!