WIG CEO Blog May 2019 – A change in climate around Climate Change
A change in climate around Climate Change
Other than a newsreader solemnly announcing a giant meteor hitting the earth in a decade’s time, or aliens landing or perhaps an imminent nuclear weapon exchange, one can hardly imagine anything that will affect the world and those on it more than global climate change. Of course, this is not news; the environment has been a topic and concern for decades. Climate is the number one global risk in terms of likelihood, according to the World Economic Forum. And acknowledging that 17 of the 18 hottest years since records began have occurred since 2001 - who can still doubt them? However, the journey from recognition to significant action has been a slow (albeit inexorable) one and arguably ‘awareness’ to ‘strategy’ to ‘plan’ and finally ‘delivery’ hasn’t kept pace with the reality of the challenge. This pace has certainly picked up significantly.
This acceleration in pace is alive throughout our membership. Recent WIG events with speakers including Alex Chisholm, Permanent Secretary for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Gareth Redmond-King, Head of Climate Change, WWF UK and James Bevan, Chief Executive, Environment Agency have driven home the importance of not only taking action but also the urgent need to work collaboratively across sectors to solve this challenge.
Visit our resources library to find slides, podcasts and articles from these events.
Looking at the facts
The Paris agreement on Climate Change (COP 21) set the upper limit for global warming above pre-industrial levels at 2 degrees. The preferred limit set by the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Current efforts fall well short of delivering either and we are still heading for around 3 degrees by the middle of the century. The global net human-caused CO2 emissions will need to be zero by 2050 to achieve the 1.5-degree target. In parallel with this international dialogue, ‘bottom-up’ pressure has increased. Greta Thunberg’s media exposure and ‘Extinction Rebellion’ are manifestations, but judicial as well as social attitudes are hardening, and contributors to the problem will increasingly be exposed to liability risks. There have been over 1000 Climate Change cases filed across 30 jurisdictions around the world. Shareholders and investors too are on the move with UN principles of responsible investment and organisations such as the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) who are encouraging greater transparency in order to provide information to investors, lenders, insurers, and other stakeholders.
Paris also called for a leadership role from developed countries. The talk now is of Net Zero carbon emissions. France is looking at feasibility and Sweden has committed. Germany, one of the world’s biggest consumers of coal, will shut down all 84 of its coal-fired power plants over the next 19 years with some $45 billion in spending to mitigate the pain in affected regions. The recent report from the UK Committee on Climate Change states that Zero emissions by 2050 is achievable in the UK. The challenge would be significant: Zero-carbon cars by 2030; a doubling of the electrical system capacity and a quadrupling of supply; carbon capture and storage at scale; different heating arrangements for 30 million homes; an agricultural policy overhaul acknowledging a 20% reduction in meat and dairy consumption and the planting of many millions of trees etc.
If the Committee’s recommendations were to become policy and then supported by legislation and regulation, it would make the UK a leader of developed nations on emissions. Even if the Environment Bill, which enshrines present European targets, is passed and current policy and plans are followed, the requirement for cross-government and cross-sector partnership and understanding around delivering the necessary change is almost unprecedented.
Ambitious as these targets sound, the current language offers a clue to the urgency of the debate. The talk is no longer about mitigating the risk of Climate Change occurring at some point in the future but addressing the present and now certain effects of that change. Part of the discussion is about how to adapt to Climate Change and improve resilience – not if, but when. This is no longer an exercise in board assurance and that ‘one is doing one’s bit’ but a critical risk, a driver of strategy and increasingly a matter of compliance.
The challenge all of our members face is to absorb and understand the implications of mitigation, adaptation, resilience and the increasing political, legal and social drivers for radical change. This all feels like a change in climate around Climate Change.
Simon Ancona CBE
Simon Ancona enjoyed a full career in the Royal Navy including service in the Fleet Air Arm and appointments abroad in both Hong Kong and Bahrain. He commanded 4 warships, the UK’s Carrier Strike Group and UK maritime forces in the Middle East but also spent about 10 years in Whitehall including time in Ministerial outer office. His final appointment was as the Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff in charge of world-wide defence diplomacy and engagement. On leaving the military he worked as the Chief Operating Officer responsible for Network Rail’s North East London and Anglia region, which provided experience of commercial delivery and the challenges of operating at the seam of both the public and private sector. Married to Lisa he lives in South London and has two university aged children. Interests include cycling, walking, theatre, cooking, books and playing the blues Harmonica (normally when the house is empty).
Simon writes a CEO Blog for WIG on topics that he identifies as relevant to and impacting on our members.
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