Lessons from the giants will lead us to a greener future
In the last week of 2021 we lost three giants of humanity.
The great biodiversity pioneers, Thomas Lovejoy and EO “Antman” Wilson, and the heroic healer Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose devotion to universal dignity and sheer will helped steer the South African anti-apartheid movement towards democracy, died at the end of December.
Although they lived with their eyes (or their eyes in the case of Wilson, who lost his sight partly in a fishing accident) wide open for a combined 262 years in the belly of racial carnage and the rainforest, these three wise men never lost hope in our ability to choose a better future.
Thankfully, for the first time in my life, the world’s most powerful business and political leaders are now all pledging to work towards a better future for the planet.
Financial firms have pledged over $130 trillion in assets to be net-zero by 2050. And 130 countries have also pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, including all G7 countries and South Africa. Brazil, Russia and China have pledged to be net zero by 2060, and India, which is at an early stage of industrial development, by 2070.
These promises should not be underestimated. No one wants their word to mean nothing, let alone heads of state and CEOs.
Nevertheless, it happens quite often: what Swedish activist Greta Thunberg calls “blah, blah, blah”.
There are still many powerful defenders of the status quo who will work hard to stop governments from following through.
on their promises.
We go beyond the ‘blah blah blah’ when we consider what has happened over the past century and ask a simple question: are we moving in the right direction fast enough to get where we want to be in the future ? If the answer is no, we must ensure that it is yes wherever we have influence.
For companies, this includes our direct operations, as well as Scope 3 emissions (indirect emissions resulting from a company’s supply chains and the use of its products), which are an order of magnitude larger . Importantly, it includes what the nonprofit Influence Map has called Scope 4 emissions, the greenhouse gas implications of a company’s government lobbying.
There are still many powerful defenders of the status quo who will work hard to prevent governments from following through on their promises. There is no point, let alone the planet, in demonizing these forces; instead, we must counter and co-opt them. The forces of economic gravity have clearly swung in favor of clean solutions (as evidenced by the growing financial outperformance of the Global 100 index against its blue chip benchmark).
It’s heartening to see most net zero emissions pledges from companies making it clear that they don’t want to be left hanging, with words like “My organization is making this pledge in the hope that governments will follow through on their own zero emission commitments. ensure that the objectives of the Paris Agreement are achieved.
What is the right speed? Johan Rockström, who heads the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, has proposed a solution for the global economy to quickly reduce carbon emissions, a “carbon law” that would halve emissions every decade (and apply to cities, nations and industrialists). sectors). Rockström and his colleagues think it could catalyze disruptive innovation in a way similar to what Moore’s Law did for the computer industry.
The pandemic has also illustrated the tremendous power we have as a modern society to innovate and deploy solutions when we fear for our lives. We must hold on to this ambition for climate action and push it with all our might, as the great Tutu did in the face of what seemed like insurmountable challenges in his lifetime. After all, as the late Archbishop once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.”