Signs of hope

Amid continuing concern about the hard economic consequences of Brexit, there’s cause for optimism from good progress on the Paris climate agreement and the roll-out of the Global Goals.

Martin Schulz signs Climate Agreement

Martin Schulz signs Climate Agreement

Mark Carney, the softly-spoken Canadian governor of the Bank of England, provides a rare focus for optimism right now. Indeed he has been dubbed by one pundit  ‘the only adult in the room’ while politicians play children’s games.

He can’t do much about the remorseless logic of the UK government putting border controls and immigration limits ahead of staying in the world’s largest trading block and what that will do for economic prospects; still less about the possible global consequences of Brexit’s American cousin, Trump, should that come to pass next month.

But he is intervening vigorously in the debate about opportunities arising from the move to a low carbon economy. His timing is excellent, with the EU Parliament fast-tracking its approval of the Paris Climate Agreement, meaning we are now over the threshold of 55 countries equating to 55% of global emissions needed for ratification.

Hat tip to Joel Kenrick of the European Climate Foundation for his excellent analysis of the governor’s interventions over the last year, culminating in a speech in Berlin this September. According to Bloomberg, Carney thinks green finance could help prop up global economic growth if policymakers smooth the way for investors to channel $100 trillion currently in fixed income markets into projects that reduce pollution.

In Mark Carney’s own words “Green investment represents a major opportunity for both long-term investors and macroeconomic policymakers seeking to jump-start growth… Financial policymakers will not drive the transition to a low-carbon economy. Governments will establish the frameworks, and the private sector will make the investments.”

Some of this is echoed in the UK by incoming business secretary, Greg Clark MP, who told his party conference this week   “Our global leadership in combatting climate change now presents us with a massive opportunity to enjoy industrial success as we put clean energy at the heart of our industrial future.”

Is the private sector ready to step forward? In particular, what is it doing in response to last year’s historic agreement on a new set of Sustainable Development Goals. Exactly one year on, the picture is mixed. Most are playing the wait and see game. Some – mainly the usual leaders – are actively mapping their existing CSR and sustainability strategies against the Global Goals to see how they can best contribute. A few – still too few – are going further and asking how their businesses need to change, if they are to prosper long term in a world where the goals are achieved by 2030.

My colleagues and I at Corporate Citizenship have updated our research, created a series of Leaders Insights, reached out to a cohort of practitioners and millennials for their views, and set out an action plan for companies. All the wealth of material is available here.

Right now it’s easy to focus on the bad news. Let’s not lose sight of the opportunities presented by last year’s unprecedented agreements at the United Nations.

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