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Business & Climate Summit: inspiring a social movement

By Super Admin

The Business & Climate Summit 2016 held in London is a leading annual forum for businesses, investors and policymakers on climate action.  One of the attendees was Charles Perry, a leader in sustainability, energy and climate change for 20 years, who is a non-exec director of no less than five sustainability organisations and who founded, ran and sold the highly respected Second Nature consultancy.  Charles attended the conference and this article is based on an interview with him about the event—Adam Woodhall

Why did you choose to attend this conference?

This was a follow-up to COP21 Paris Conference, attracting people from all over the world, and after realising the high profile nature of these participants, I thought, “It’s about how businesses help drive both adaptation and mitigation on climate change” with speakers such as Stuart Gulliver, CEO of HSBC and Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever.  I also saw that there were various dignitaries from government and public sector as well, such as Ségolène Royal, the French Minister of Environment who was also and President of COP21; Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC and I thought this would be one not to miss.

It was a great collection of passionate and extremely knowledgeable people trying to work on how do we drive this agenda forwards with urgency.  Because, if you remember from the Paris agreement, the big outcome was 175 countries signing up to keep climate change below two degrees’ increase, and in fact aiming for 1.5 degrees.  And that’s really challenging to achieve.  So we’ve all got to get a lot more serious about how we’re going to do this.

Who stood out to you from the speakers?

Someone who really impressed me was Laurence Tubiana, who is from the French government, she’s an economist and diplomat who was appointed the ambassador for the international negotiations for COP21. In her talk she described where we’ve got to and then what’s going to happen next with the handing of the baton to Morocco, the hosts for COP22 next year. She was really calling for a whole gear change and paradigm shift because it was generally agreed that we’re not on track at all. In fact, at the moment, we’re heading for more likes of three and a half to four degrees’ centigrade increase.

Was there anybody taking that pace up and following her urging?

I think the We Mean Business Coalition is a very good and positive group of very progressive businesses, that includes Marks & Spencer and Unilever and Ikea and others. They’ve come together to drive this change, so they’ve also formed RE (Renewable Energy) Hundred, committing to a 100% renewable energy generation. They also launched at the summit the The Business End of Climate Change report. This coalition is supported by Steve Howard, who is the Chief Sustainability Officer of Ikea.  He came across very impressively and he’s made great progress in the way he’s corralled people of great influence around the world to drive things forward. Nigel Topping CEO of We Mean Business also spoke very well on this agenda.

That sounds very positive, what was the general mood of the conference?

Well, that’s a very different question because the mood was quite bleak, given that the Brexit vote had happened only 4 days before and just about every speaker talked about Brexit. This is a group of passionate people around sustainability, environment, climate change and 99% of them were supporting remain. So it was difficult to concentrate on the whole COP process of international negotiations when the whole world has been thrown into a period of uncertainty and instability.

Do you see any connections between what the Remain Campaign is now doing, post-Brexit, how things can be done going forward with climate change?

Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s all about mobilization and social movements. People like to think of the whole climate change thing as an environmental movement, I prefer to think of it as a social movement. So even though I’d call myself an environmentalist first and foremost, I actually believe what we need here is a social movement to readdress our way of life.

How would you summarise the conference?

I’ll tell you exactly how I’d summarize it; as individuals all these people are very knowledgeable, experienced with multiple qualifications, and it’s like “Wow, this is a group of incredibly impressive people”. That inspires me and as I’m a people person and a huge extrovert I get my energy from people. So the question for me is, how do you actually work with these individuals as an individual? Take organizations out of this, as individuals how do we work together to drive the necessary change? And that’s why I go back to the answer; that this is a social movement. Because as soon as realize it’s a social movement then it’s not about “I work for M&S and we do X”, or “I work for BP and we can’t do Y”, it’s about working together to deliver transformational change.

Thank you, Charles.  It sounds like an excellent conference, and we look forward to the 2017 edition, when hopefully, we can report on considerable progress over the last 12 months.