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Davos reflections: now is the time to take on the fossil fuel lobby

British Challenger 2 Tanks

Progressive companies versus fossil fuel lobby is like group of children with pea shooters trying to take on a tank. Photograph: Dan Chung


Powered by article titled “Davos reflections: now is the time to take on the fossil fuel lobby” was written by Jo Confino, for on Monday 27th January 2014 17.44 UTC

We all know that decisions made by committee risk pandering to the lowest common denominator. This seems to be the case when it comes to the progressive end of the business community.

While some corporate leaders individually recognise the world economy needs to undergo a radical shift to deal with social and environmental challenges, when they try to come up with a united front, the sharpness of their voice gets lost.

This was the fate again of the World Economic Forum in Davos, which drew many of the world’s sustainability leaders, but ended with little concrete to show for it.

This is an acute problem as progressive businesses must put on a united front ahead of the UN climate summit this September in New York and the global talks in Paris in 2015.

While some new business initiatives did come out of Davos, business leaders failed to fall into line behind one or two big ideas that can really drive momentum in the public domain, either with politicians or citizens.

That is part of the problem with sustainability, which covers so many social, environmental and economic issues, that it can look like everything and nothing.

Georg Kell, head of the United Nations Global Compact, recognised “that some of the big issues that hold back corporate sustainability becoming a transformative force remain un-tackled … The lesson from Davos is clear: much more needs to be done to reach critical mass. It is time for business leaders to advocate the right public policy changes and to win over peers and competitors for the right cause.”

Nick Mabey, CEO of E3G, an independent organisation acting to accelerate the global transition to sustainable development, also pointed out that while the progressive business community talked at Davos, the fossil fuel sector continued to flex its muscles.

“There was a disconnect between business optimism over investing in climate solutions, and the failure of low carbon business to invest in making a political impact in the debate on EU 2030 climate targets going on in Brussels at the same time.

” … The challenge is that those betting on a low carbon future need to organise far more successfully to shape the global politics of climate change, or we will find ourselves as outgunned by high carbon lobbies in Paris 2015 as we were in Brussels this week.”

So what is to be done? First of all we need company CEOs to start showing some leadership. We must also move beyond initiatives such as the Ceres climate declaration in the United States, which in an attempt to get more than a smattering of major businesses to sign up, was so sanitised that it became nothing much more than a general mush.

We also don’t want a repeat of the recent call to action by the B Team, ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, which one adviser called “that statement written by committee”. It failed to come up with a single specific recommendation for change, instead relying on platitudes such as “executives must rise above narrow sectoral and short-term interests, and work with governments to create a new framework of incentives and sanctions, rewarding investment in people and planet.”

The B Team could be a powerful force for good in the world, given its membership of respected CEOs and leaders such as Mary Robinson and Gro Harlem Brundtland. But trying to get them all to agree on a common position is a little like herding cats.

Behind the scenes at Davos, there were moves for companies to come together in more dynamic coalitions, which hopefully will reach fruition in the next few months. There is a recognition that not only must companies address the politicians directly, but businesses must also engage more proactively with citizens, and especially young people, to drive the political agenda.

For politicians to take action, they desperately need so be able to show that companies support the move towards a green economy and that it makes good business sense, can provide jobs and address climate change and resource scarcity.


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