The emergence of climate change leaders


Leaders of businesses, cities and regions increased their commitments to fight climate change after US President Donald Trump’s announcement in June 2017 that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Many businesses are taking a lead in this fight. “We believe that addressing climate change, stepping up to our responsibility, is more than the right thing to do ­– it is in our business interest to think about the future, ” said Lisa Jackson, Vice President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives of Apple at the Women’s Forum Global Meeting 2017.

Photo credit: Women’s Forum/Sipa Press

Pressure from stakeholders is also driving an increased role for businesses in the battle against climate change. “In terms of managing climate problems,” said Jean-Bernard Lévy, Chairman and CEO of French utility EDF, “companies will play a larger role than ever because sustainable development issues are now such a big requirement from all our stakeholders — our shareholders, those who lend us money on the financial markets, our employees and, number one, our customers. All require that we take action in the climate area.”

How are businesses tackling climate change?

Business leaders and other delegates at the Women’s Forum Global Meeting outlined some of the business sector’s contributions to and challenges from the fight against climate change.

· Advocating for regulatory frameworks and a carbon price. Business leaders called for regulatory frameworks and incentives to help in the fight against climate change. Many called for a carbon price to allow renewable energies to compete with fossil fuels. “It is necessary to put a cost on pollution to be able to work in a cleaner way,” said Antoine Frérot, Chairman and CEO of Veolia. While government action is crucial, businesses can take the lead on carbon pricing, he said: “The key is that businesses act voluntarily and show the example.” Veolia has already established its own internal carbon price.

· Taking the lead in technological innovation. Energy-efficient technologies are crucial in the fight against climate change. From solar energy to electric vehicles, businesses are developing cost-efficient green technologies, processes and products.

· Reducing emissions in their production processes. Businesses are cutting carbon emissions from their production processes and shifting to renewable energies.

· Improving the recyclability of products. Companies are developing ways to reuse resources and make their products more recyclable. “We set a goal for ourselves to make our products from 100% recyclable or renewable materials,” said Apple’s Lisa Jackson.

· Greening their supply chains. More and more businesses are working with suppliers to meet and maintain strict environmental and social standards.

· Using brands and marketing to reach consumers on environmental issues. “The biggest impact we can make is to use our brands to communicate with our consumers,” said Gary Coombe, President, Europe of Procter & Gamble, which reaches 5 billion consumers around the world. “From a social point of view, this means using brands as a voice for good, and from an environmental view, it means helping consumers use brands in responsible way.”

Women take the lead

“More and more women are becoming climate leaders,” said Fanny Giansetto of the C40 Women4Climate Brigade. “Women are more vulnerable to climate change, so it is vital that women are implicated to fight against it.” Women4Climate, launched by L’Oréal and the C40 group of cities, is a mentoring programme for 500 young women worldwide that aims to empower women as leaders in fighting climate change.

A key architect of the Paris climate agreement was a woman, Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation. “The Paris Agreement, and what many women have done, was only the beginning,” she said. “The issue in the next two years is to mobilize energy for transformation — not incremental, but transformational change.” She stressed the need for more women leaders in the energy sector. “Energy is a male-dominated field,” she said. “How can you understand change when you have been in the sector a long time and are among friends?”

Countries, cities and regions link up to fight climate change

China and the European Union are taking key roles in international efforts to fight climate change. Cities and regions are linking up to tackle climate change, through global alliances such as the C20, C40 and R20-Regions of Climate Change. Cities are particularly pressed to find sustainable solutions: they produce about 70% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and by 2050, about 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas, compared with 50% today.

Delegates at the meeting stressed the urgent need for action on climate goals. Technologies are available, and different groups must work together to find solutions. “The one thing we don’t have is time,” said Rachel Kyte, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All.

This article was drawn from sessions at the Women’s Forum Global Meeting 2017.