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Originally posted on LinkedIn on November 10, 2022

Thanks to COP27, climate change is having its moment in the Egyptian sun this month, forcing its way back briefly to the top of news agendas around the world. The latest UN reports are unquestionably scary, and have added to a growing sense of unease around events in Sharm-el-Sheikh.  

The UN climate agency projects the world to be on course for a catastrophic 2.5C temperature rise; its environmental team sees “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place”; and the World Meteorological Organization reported that the past eight years were the hottest ever recorded

Right in the middle of this gloomy prognosis, Edelman released its second Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and Climate Change. Its findings reflected many of those fears among consumers, but were also not a good, comfortable read for businesses and CEOs. 

Edelman surveyed 14,000 consumers in 14 countries for the report, ranging from Brazil and China to Saudi Arabia and the USA. More than half of those surveyed (57%) said that there had been little to no progress overall in the fight against climate change. 

In terms of who should take the initiative in this collective effort to address climate change, less than a third (32%) of respondents cited business, which came 22 points below national governments (54%) as prime mover. Despite that, the majority (57%) also think that governments lack the necessary willpower to enforce climate-related changes on businesses and individuals.

It gets worse. Just under two-thirds of respondents (64%) believe that companies are performing in a mediocre or worse fashion at keeping their climate commitments to their organizations and communities, ranging from 76% in Mexico to 36% in China. 

The current crop of business leaders are not viewed favourably. Edelman’s report found that CEOs are among the least trusted climate spokespeople: less than half of those surveyed (41%) trust them to tell the truth about climate change and what needs to be done to address it, in contrast with scientists/climate experts (76%). This view of business is in contrast with Edelman’s main Trust Barometer for 2022, which had businesses (61%) as most trusted, nine points ahead of governments. 

So far, so dark and gloomy. Let’s have some shards of light. When businesses educate people how to reduce their own climate impact, people begin to trust them more to do what is right to address climate change. Other confidence boosters included:

  • Adopting science-based climate targets 
  • Ensuring suppliers reduce their climate impact 
  • Inventing climate-friendly products and technologies

Although some of the report could be put down as PR scaremongering (as the wise Alison Taylor did so eloquently last week on LinkedIn), this should also be a clarion call for the business community. It’s time to collectively get educated on climate, and fast. 

Given the often glacial pace of government, businesses should not be laggards in addressing the climate crisis. They should be at the front as innovators, as leaders and as educators, to mobilize change. 

However, too many are still struggling to grasp the realities and opportunities on the table in front of them because they do not have the necessary knowledge and insights to make the right decisions. We need to fill that education gap as fast as possible. As many of you know, that is what my fantastic team at Competent Boards and our faculty are doing each and every day. 

Some boards have had that lightbulb moment, which is great to see. A new research report by Corporate Secretary of 226 corporate secretaries and other governance professionals revealed that 80% of boards surveyed had been given ESG information or training in the past year. Encouraging signs, but the sample size was small, so we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. 

The overall global reports are gloomy, and will stay that way for a while. But we, as business leaders, still have time and opportunity to make meaningful change by starting to get ourselves educated as best we can. 

So I want to echo the net positivity of my good friend Paul Polman. He summed up COP27 beautifully:

“It’s a natural reaction to approach these sorts of summits with cynicism and to brace yourself for disappointment, but I urge you to put away your pessimism: it won’t do us any good. Forget tempering your hope with realism, try tempering your realism with hope. This is a battle in which humanity still has everything to play for, and one we dare not lose.”

Amen to that.

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