Reflections on seven years as We Mean Business ChairSteve Howard, We Mean Business Coalition Founding Chair
Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels wrote in 1710, “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.” In 2015, when a group of us met to ensure the voice of forward-looking business was heard at the crucial COP21 Paris Climate negotiations, this observation felt painfully familiar. For many years, a small but well organised group of corporate funded lobbyists had influenced the media and policy conversation with the simple narrative, that climate action and economic growth were incompatible. According to this narrative, the science was in doubt, solutions were small scale and unproven and any business or government that pursued efforts to cut their emissions, were sacrificing profit, jobs or growth. In fact, the science was certain, clean technology was scaling and a green transition was clearly the best path for the economy, jobs and society. Yet all the great initiatives already underway and companies implementing bold plans were spread thin. Our collective impact was not being felt and the many business leaders who wanted an enabling policy environment for greater climate action were not being fully heard.
This was the context in which We Mean Business was conceived, and I was privileged to take on the role of Founding Chair. Leaders from the seven Coalition partners, BSR, CDP, Ceres, Climate Group, CLG Europe, The B-Team and WBCSD came together to ensure the voice of forward-looking businesses were clearly heard at COP21 in Paris and that we raised the bar for corporate climate action. Crucially we also worked with the NGO movement, scientists, and unions to build a shared understanding that would prove powerful and enduring. As we fast forward to today, businesses of every size and from nations around the world are willing to commit to binding long term science-based emissions reduction targets and they want appropriate regulation from governments to create an enabling environment for such action. COP26 in Glasgow, which many have called the finance and business COP, clearly demonstrated how this movement has become unstoppable.
Our collaboration has served business and helped to accelerate action, by helping create a common action-platform and clear routes in for businesses. Today, thanks to the work of the We Mean Business Coalition on Climate Leadership Now and the clear pathway of the Four A’s, Ambition, Action, Advocacy & Accountability, sustainability-minded corporate leaders can find clear guidance on the steps they need to take and the journey their business needs to travel. Through partner initiatives such as SBTi, including the newly launched Net-Zero Standard; the Climate Pledge; RE100; EV100; Business Alliance to Scale Climate Solutions and the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, it has never been easier for businesses to understand the most impactful action they can be taking. Through Mission Possible Partnership and the SME Climate Hub those in the hardest to abate industries, as well as small business leaders, can find targeted bespoke advice. Such initiatives were virtually inconceivable in 2015, and today they are primed for rapid expansion.
The number of businesses that are publicly saying that climate action is too difficult or too costly are vanishingly small. That shift has been made possible by a range of factors, including the youth climate strikes, impossible-to-ignore climate related disasters and the incontrovertible scientific consensus presented in the IPCC’s report on 1.5ºC. I also believe, thanks to our relentless focus on net-zero as the ultimate goal and the pace of emissions reductions to halve emissions by 2030, it was greatly helped by the efforts within the We Mean Business Coalition and the many thousands of businesses who have embraced climate action.
As I step down as Chair of the Coalition, and welcome a great champion of corporate climate leadership, Sir Ian Cheshire, to take up the post, I recognise this as another crucial moment in our collective endeavour. We have come so far in a short time, and yet the challenges ahead remain formidable. More businesses than ever before are committed to science-based action and yet it is still not enough. Nations are moving in the right direction with their emission reduction targets but long-term net zero targets need to be translated into bold immediate plans. The COVID pandemic demonstrated that governments can move at a speed and scale that delivers transformational change. Yet we aren’t seeing a similar response proportionate to the climate crisis which will ultimately dwarf the impacts of the COVID pandemic. Business and political leaders increasingly recognise the huge opportunities of the green transition, but there is still too little attention paid to those most vulnerable communities who will be worst affected by the impacts of climate change and those workers who will lose out from the economic shifts underway.
For these reasons and many more, the work of We Mean Business Coalition remains as important as ever. Since inception and still true today, our strength lies in the people we work with.
Commitments made by businesses to procure 100% renewable energy or reach net-zero emissions in the 2040s, or support their value chains to decarbonise are tough to deliver. We see the thousands of individuals working tirelessly within businesses to turn ambition into action, and we commit to support them every step of the way. We also recognise those political leaders, officials and partners who share our vision for a future industrial strategy that will create jobs and vibrant industries. Our ambition is now to spread that vision further and faster even than we have achieved since 2015.
If we succeed, we will deliver a green revolution on an unprecedented scale, transforming the global economy through e-mobility, battery storage, affordable renewable energy, the hydrogen economy, plant-based foods, sustainable materials, cleaner greener cities and regeneration of nature.
I’d like to thank the coalition partners for choosing to put the issue ahead of themselves and their organisations. I’d like to thank the many business leaders putting climate action at the top of their long list of priorities as well as policy-makers and politicians for making bold-choices. Last, but not least, I would like to thank our funders, especially our founding funder IKEA Foundation without whom none of our work would be possible.
As Al Gore says, hope is also a renewable resource. Thanks to our collective effort I am certain that it is hope, not falsehoods, that will take flight in this decade of the great transition.