I remember when Copenhagen didn’t deliver the goods, the global mood music, which until that moment had sounded like it was getting everyone to dance towards an agreement on climate change, suddenly seemed to go quiet. Business leaders started to see that if the politicians weren’t going to act, they didn’t need to either, we felt that as many clients reined back their sustainability plans. I still only had a few friends that had changed anything about their lives to battle climate change.
That changed with the 2015 agreement in Paris, the music grew louder than ever – this was a generational challenge, the direction was clear, and everyone would need to act. We saw a distinct increase in businesses seeking help, they knew that the dance was back on, we were all going to set the targets we needed to arrest climate change in the first half of the century. I had friends and colleagues that stopped flying, gave up meat and finally learned how to recycle.
As the years rolled by, a steady increase in businesses taking action was clear to us, but as Covid struck, I thought the music would switch off again, the enormity of the pandemic would push the long term, much harder and, frankly, far worse challenge of climate change to the back of business leaders’ minds. Quite the opposite happened, faced with the frightening threat of one very present global crisis, the far bigger, distant one became much more real. More and more businesses have stepped up in the last 12 months than ever before – in nearly 15 years in sustainability I’ve never seen anything like it. And I now have almost no family and friends (they haven’t deserted me!) who aren’t consciously, actively doing their bit for climate action.
So, roll forward to Glasgow, whether it’s Popes or teenagers, business leaders or princes, nonagenarian tv presenters or pop stars, the voices are loud and clear. According to UN Development programme a clear majority of the population in every one of 50 countries thinks this is a global emergency (and we know what one really looks like now). Similarly, the BBC has found that 56% of people in 31 countries want stronger targets and an Ipsos Mori survey here in the UK shows 80% of us think it is a human caused emergency too.
The music is so loud it’s almost deafening.
So what dance do we want to see in Glasgow, a ceilidh? Well, the challenge before the assembled leaders in Glasgow is not “Why do we need to act?” We do all now seem to agree the reasons are scientific and clear. The challenge is not even “What do we need to do?” Since the Paris agreement and the IPCC report of 2018 we have all known what we need to achieve – net zero by 2050 with a near 50% reduction in emissions along the way in 2030 – on this the science is clear. The challenge for Glasgow is “How do we get there?”. This is the hardest challenge of all, sound bites and targets are not enough, inspiring speeches and doomsday predictions no longer help. Yes, we do need campaigners and opinion makers to keep us pointed in the right direction, but really, now, with no delay we need action, real, hard, tangible action from countries, businesses and people alike. That is what Glasgow must make possible.
We need that action from governments of course, we need global agreement to put in place the policies, the investments and the regulations to make it clear and certain to us all what is needed and what we must do. Glasgow must deliver on that. We need that action from businesses – a target for net zero by 2050 risks being next management’s problem, if it is not matched by action today, this year and every year until that deadline – businesses must now deliver on their promises, and many are stepping up as COP26 starts. But we need to take that action ourselves, this is everyone’s problem. If you’re reading this and you still fly more than you absolutely must, you risk being part of the problem. If you buy goods and services from businesses that don’t have clear climate plans and actions, you’re almost certainly delaying the day when businesses have to change to keep their customers. If you think that the people in Glasgow can solve climate change without direct action from you at home, in the organisation where you work, in the choices you make or the votes you cast, then I think you are sat at the edge of the dance floor watching. Time to step up and join the dance…
more than a word.