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Torres: ‘Climate change for viticulture is worse than phylloxera’

The International Wineries Climate Action conference warns of 'climate emergency' as it continues working towards its members being carbon neutral by 2050.

There were several important takeaways from the International Wineries Climate Action (IWCA) conference held last week. ‘Spreading the word’ and recruiting as many new wineries to the cause as possible are high on the organisation’s list of priorities going forward.

Hosted by IWCA founding partner Miguel A Torres of Familia Torres and Rob Symington of Symington Family Estates, alongside Fiona Macklin from the UN-backed Race to Zero campaign, Torres kickstarted the briefing with the warning that ‘climate change for viticulture is worse than phylloxera’. At the same time he urged wine producers to join the cause and help tackle climate change.

‘We don’t talk about climate change anymore, we talk about climate emergency,’ said Torres. ‘We only have very few years ahead of us to change what happens with the situation. Covid is probably going to pass away but climate change is not going to leave, it’s going to stay and it is going to get worse and worse,’ he warned.

‘We cannot afford a “stand by and watch” attitude towards climate change anymore. Immediate action is needed by everyone and everywhere,’ Torres added.

Symington also emphasised the severity of the situation. He pointed out that in the Douro, with every year that goes by, winemakers are likely to be facing the hottest year on record. ‘It just keeps happening and that for me is terrifying,’ he said. ‘This is real for all of us and, as Miguel said, we don’t have long to solve it.’

Confident action needed

Keen to reinforce that the message around the IWCA is about ‘carbon literacy’, Symington also highlighted how businesses aren’t used to having to speak about climate change with confidence.

‘We are used to profit and loss, marketing and sales strategies and strategic plans. This is taking us outside our comfort zone in the wine trade,’ he said.

Key words for the IWCA, he added, are ‘rigour, measurement, public goals with science based emissions reductions targets, actions not words and leadership’.

He also pointed to how ‘in many ways’ CO2 is going to be ‘another currency’. He added: ‘In fact, it already is, it’s a new accounting.’

Changing attitudes

In addition, Symington referred to the ‘shift in mindset’ that his company has been obliged to make over the last four years. ‘We have gone from seeing sustainability as a PR exercise to seeing it as a core pillar of risk management in our business; as a catalyst for transformation and as a way to future proof what we are doing.’

Admitting that this mindset shift is ‘not easy’, he said: ‘The instinct of businesses is corporate social responsibility – just do some good stuff in a silo and then try to get some good press from it.’

Keen to emphasise that ‘that’s not why we are here, it’s not what the the IWCA is about’, Symington added: ‘Our approach to the climate crisis is the same as our approach to sustainability, which has to do with external third party frameworks.’

He continued: ‘It’s not just us saying we’re doing a good job. It’s audited it’s verified, and ideally with an obligation for continuous improvement baked into the model. That’s why we became a B Corp. That’s why we joined the IWCA. Because it’s not just the moments in time where you pat yourself on the back and then go back to business as usual. It’s a roadmap.’

Summing up what the IWCA is all about, Symington concluded: ‘It’s about measurement and rigour. It’s about sharing best practice. It’s about collective influence, because together we have greater ability to speak to bottle manufacturers, or the people who produce cartons or corks, and it’s about helping all wineries, large and small to get on this journey.’

The IWCA, which was founded in 2019, currently counts 24 member wineries spanning seven countries across five continents. All of them are required to make consistent reductions in CO2 year on year, working towards being carbon neutral by 2050.

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