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  • CAFA

Sprinting to Zero

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

Is Race to Zero really a race, is it a competition? Are we sprinting together, are we in a fight to the finish line? Is this a race for survival?

This was Nik Gowing’s opening statement at this week’s joint Climate Action for Associations (CAFA) and Race to Zero event.

Fiona Macklin, Policy Advisor at the UN Climate Champions Team , joined Ali Heppenstall from CAFA, to share the purpose of the Race to Zero campaign, its history, criteria, and the process of getting involved.

‘Unlike most races, this race doesn’t have one winner. In this race we will all win. But to win requires unprecedented level of action and collaboration, from all corners of our world. From our cities, businesses, regions and investors. From people everywhere’ Fiona continued.

Chaired by the formidable, Nik Gowing from Thinking the Unthinkable, the discussion provoked some key questions and considerations from the group of cross sector institutes and associations that took part.

What is Race to Zero?

Race To Zero is a UN backed global campaign which rallies leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, investors to inspire healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs, and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth.

‘The objective of the Race to Zero campaign is to build momentum around the shift to a decarbonized economy ahead of COP26, where governments must strengthen their contributions to the Paris Agreement. This will send governments a resounding signal that business, cities, regions and investors are united in meeting the Paris goals and creating a more inclusive and resilient economy.’

All members are committed to the same overarching goal: reducing emissions across all scopes swiftly and fairly in line with the Paris Agreement, with transparent action plans and robust near-term targets.

The Role of Associations in the Race to Zero

‘Associations play a key role in reaching global ambition as you are key influencers of change’. Fiona added that membership organisations, and not just limited to ‘trade associations’, are key drivers of policy, setting new required standards, regulation, and the future skills required but we need to act collectively and work together to drive action.

‘The world needs more radical collaboration and ambition if we are to achieve results’, Nik proposed and initiatives like CAFA challenge the status quo, calling on associations around the world to take proactive leadership and supporting them to do so.

CAFA Global Accelerator of Race to Zero

CAFA is a Global Accelerator for the Race to Zero campaign and has the objective to raise awareness of and encourage membership organisations around the world to act and become part of Race to Zero.

‘CAFA provides practical information, guidance and tools specifically to help associations to get ready, to start and to support on the journey. We are evolving our resources and introducing more in-depth solutions as the needs of associations evolve as the speed of the race picks up’, Ali Heppenstall, Co-Executive Director of CAFA said.

‘It is confusing with so many commitment and pledge options out there, the ‘Race to Zero campaign is a hugely credible initiative and we are proud to be working with the Climate Champions team to help mobilise associations to accelerate climate action’.

Be part of the Race to Zero

The High-level Climate Champions have a clear process and require that the commitments brought forward by networks and initiatives recognized in the Race to Zero campaign meet a minimum set of ‘meta-criteria’ known as the Four ’P’s. If your association wants to become a part of Race to Zero as an initiative or network, it will need to meet the following:

1. Pledge: Pledge at the head-of-organization level to reach (net) zero GHGs as soon as possible, and by mid-century at the latest, in line with global efforts to limit warming to 1.5C. Set an interim target to achieve in the next decade, which reflects maximum effort toward or beyond a fair share of the 50% global reduction in CO2 by 2030 identified in the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C.

2. Plan: Within 12 months of joining, explain what actions will be taken toward achieving both interim and longer-term pledges, especially in the short- to medium-term.

3. Proceed: Take immediate action toward achieving (net) zero, consistent with delivering interim targets specified.

4. Publish: Commit to report publicly both progress against interim and long-term targets, as well as the actions being taken, at least annually. To the extent possible, report via platforms that feed into the UNFCCC Global Climate Action Portal.

Fiona Macklin highlighted that ‘joining race to zero means joining an eco-system of support and understanding of how to get there’.

The race to zero can be daunting for any new organisations joining the movement but organisations such as CAFA can provide the guidance and support needed.

What’s Next?

Race to Zero are already focused beyond COP26 to define what’s next for the Race to Zero and are running a consultation on the future of the Race to Zero campaign. CAFA is contributing to this consultation process with an objective to champion the collective influence, reach and impact the Association sector has in the transition to a decarbonised world.

Further Information:

About Race to Zero

The Race to Zero team have created an Interpretation Guide that explains the criteria in more depth and a Lexicon to help explain the various terms used.

About Thinking the Unthinkable

TTU make ‘dangerous conversations’ safer to have, they help foster a mindset that ensures those at every level can innovate, experiment and fail safely.

Guiding people and teams to understand how the world around us is changing radically, the team at TTU help transform organisations to embed a new culture, behaviour and mindset. CAFA is working in collaboration with TTU to deliver long-term change at a people, team and organisational level. Thinking the Unthinkable is the start of a process.

About CAFA

Climate Action for Associations (CAFA) is a not-for-profit collective, convening professional and trade associations, institutes, societies, clubs and other independent bodies from all around the world to come together to accelerate climate action.

CAFA supports membership organisations take action internally and deliver climate action and sustainability support to members.

Contact Ali Heppenstall at

Watch the full discussion here:


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