New Support for SDG13: Publishing-Related Organizations Commit to Climate Action

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The agreement between these international publishing-related organizations calls for a series of discussions, opening at Frankfurter Buchmesse and leading up to COP26.

The bamboo canopy in a nighttime illumination of the grove at Arashiyama. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Shogo Yamada

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘We Must Take Responsibility’
Today (September 30), a month before the opening of the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 (October 31 to November 12) in Glasgow, a group of publishing-related non-governmental organizations (NGOs), trade associations, and advocacy programs have pooled their resources to issue a coordinated call for prioritization of the climate crisis “across all sectors and all parts of society from the individual to the global level.”

The entities engaged in today’s joint statement include:

The communiqué issued today contains the seeds of genuine action when the groups refer to an obligation to examine and consider changing their own practices.

“We must take responsibility for own environmental impact,” they write, “adopting climate-friendly practices with an agreed international approach and intent to work together across our supply chain. In turn, we encourage governments to recognize and factor in the importance of books, the written word, and reading in climate action, as part of comprehensive policy responses.”

Getting to an “agreed international approach and intent” requires coming up with it, of course. To that end, the parties involved in this messaging write that they have “agreed to be part of a series of conversations on climate convened by the International Publishers Association.”

The first of these conversations is scheduled to take place at Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 20 to 24), followed by digital sessions, the goal being to reach agreement and issue conclusions before COP26 opens–a quick turnaround.

Particularly in the work of the International Publishers Association, of course, we’ve seen initiatives gain traction and pacing in support of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The IPA’s creation with the UN of the SDG Book Club for young readers dates back three years now, to September 2018. It has followed that an SDG Publishers Compact was created last year during the digital edition of Frankfurt Book Fair. In July, the IPA announced that the compact had registered its first 100 commitments, a quick achievement in just nine months.

Publishing Perspectives readers will also recall that earlier this month, the IPA and Exact Editions announced a COP26 showcase of climate-related fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books, which now is on public display, free of charge, through Friday (October 1) at this link. Many publishing houses have also embarked on sweeping, aggressive efforts to discern, quantify, analyze, and reconfigure their own operations in alignment with more climate-friendly models of operation, sometimes signing onto Climate Pledge, founded in 2019 by Amazon and Global Optimism and providing its signatories with deeply researched and targeted tactics. One such house, of course, is Elsevier, which is aiming to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.

And the coalition of organizations and associations issuing their statement today are pointing to a dual pathway to what they want to achieve. Yes, their own operations need scrutiny and, most likely, some adjustment to be fully aligned with best practices ahead of the Glasgow meetings. But they also are cultural players dealing with the special capacities of books to convey the essential and critical messages to a planetary population that has needed explosive wildfires, ferocious storms, killer floods, and shocking reductions in polar ice to start earnestly working to address climate issues.

“As we’ve seen with the pandemic,” this new cohort of organizations writes, “books are an essential tool that will enable the world to understand and respond to climate change. All forms of the written word have the power to inform, inspire, and shape a sustainable culture. As such, we’re encouraging the production of–and access to–works that can support research into the climate crisis, as well as motivate the behavioral changes needed to tackle it. We’ve already seen progress through collaborations such as the SDG Book Club and other initiatives showcasing climate related books and resources.”

A New Site: Who Supports What?

In tandem with this new initiative, IPA has opened a site that many will find interesting. Here you can see various publishing-related organizations and companies associating themselves with one or more of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals through their involvement in strategic initiatives.

Here, for example, is the Asian Festival of Children’s Content–a program of William Phuan’s Singapore Book Council that’s well known to Publishing Perspectives readers and highly regarded for its efficacy in studying South and Southeast Asian culture for young readers. At the new site, you see that Singapore’s tirelessly dedicated book council has associated itself specifically with Sustainable Development Goals No. 4 and No. 5, Quality Education and Gender Equality.

Not surprisingly, the promising PublishHer organization founded by IPA president Bodour Al Qasimi is here, associated squarely with SDG No. 5, Gender Equality.

And the Turkish Publishers Association has associated itself with Nos. 5 and 10–Gender Equality and Reduced Inequalities.

Have a look. See if your favorite publishing-related organization is there. If not, you might ask that organization why it isn’t–and which Sustainable Development Goal(s) it’s aligned with.

Comments From Organizational Leaders

Sherri Aldis

In a prepared statement, the United Nations’ chief of publications Sherri Aldis is quoted, saying, “We welcome this initiative in support of SDG13: Climate Action. Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, we will be unable to limit global heating to 1.5 °C.

“The SDG Book Club encourages young readers to take action towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including combatting climate change, while the SDG Publishers Compact has brought together the publishing industry to make its practices more sustainable.

“This series of conversations on climate will help gather momentum for action ahead of COP26 and we’re excited to contribute to the sessions.”

Bodour Al Qasimi

Al Qasimi, president of the International Publishers Association, says, “We’re facing today’s biggest challenge to our society: climate change.

“Like so many other times in history, society needs the tools to enable us all to have a broader perspective and to inspire everyone to really change our day-to-day lives to become more sustainable.

“COP26 is the starting point at which publishers alongside the rest of the book chain are united in becoming a force for good, putting sustainability and climate change on the top of our priorities.”

Peter Kraus vom Cleff

Peter Kraus vom Cleff, president of the Federation of European Publishers, says, “Climate change is a global issue and this year alone we’ve seen it’s devastating effects across Europe with extreme heat waves, floods and bushfires.

“This year’s COP26 takes place in Europe and European publishers, our members, are rising to the challenge.

“We see great progress not only in taking responsibility for their own environmental footprints, but in publishing content that will help society tackle climate change.

“By uniting as a wider industry we are taking a critical first step to accelerating our progress as an international community.”

Gerald Leitner

Gerald Leitner, secretary general for the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, says: “Libraries have an essential role in driving equitable sustainable development, and in particular climate action, including by supporting cutting-edge research, providing models and showcases of sustainable practice, and catalyzing behavior change in communities.

“As in all they do, libraries value partnerships, and so welcome the opportunity to work across the book sector to drive wider change.

“I’m therefore looking forward to contributing and taking action.”  

Liz Page

Liz Page, executive director for the International Board on Books for Young People–which represents thousands of reading promoters, creators of children’s books, scholars, librarians, and many others in the book chain–is quoted, saying, “Our members are greatly affected by the devastating consequences of climate change.

“To help future generations prosper and survive, we need to work towards creating a sustainable environment.

“Books and reading play an essential role in society, especially in the development and lives of children.

“It’s their future that’s in peril if we don’t act now.”

Fabian Paagman

Fabian Paagman and Jean-Luc Treutenaere, co-presidents of the European and International Booksellers Federation, say in a dual statement, “Bookshops are essential for raising awareness and creating a knowledgeable society that shapes our future, not just on climate-related issues.

“Books help readers form opinions based on facts, research, and views from multiple angles, thus contributing to a lively and constructive public debate.

Jean Luc Treutenaere

“Without bookshops, the necessary information and knowledge becomes less accessible and these matters lose pertinence on the local stage. Local businesses in general, and local bookshops in particular, largely contribute to a more sustainable distribution of products, among them books.

“Many booksellers are already engaged in reducing their CO2 emissions. The individual distribution–in individual packaging–by vehicles to the doorsteps of customers is highly intensive in CO2 emissions.

“On the other hand, customers making their way, often by public transport, bicycle or foot, to their local bookshops, heavily decrease the released emissions involved in getting literature and culture to readers.”

Philip Carpenter

Philip Carpenter, interim CEO with the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, says, “Publishers are taking action to reduce their environmental impact–establishing a wide variety of commitments designed to address climate change.

“They’re also, of course, vital players in disseminating research on the social and environmental impacts of climate change, particularly in those countries most likely to be impacted by its effects through access programs such as Research4Life.

“However, there are still a number of important challenges that publishers need to work collaboratively to solve. I’m confident that together the industry can rise to these challenges, fast-tracking the action required to achieve a net zero emissions transformation.”

Wayne Sime

And Wayne Sime, chief executive for the Association of Learned and Professional Scholarly Associations says, “The progress required to tackle climate change depends greatly on having the best research, data, and evidence to empower all sectors of society to make the right critical decisions.

“Learned societies have long played a vital role in informing society and decision-makers.

“ALPSP is pleased to join an international call to action to continue to accelerate these efforts and not also apply them to our own sector, paving the way for a sustainable future.”

A nighttime illumination of the bamboo grove at Arashiyama. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Shogo Yamada

More on climate change and crisis response is here, more on the International Publishers Association is here, more on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, and more on COP26 is here

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the International Publishers Association.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.