Strong words and bold ideas launch the IoD's Annual Global Conference 2021, says Rob Beswick, Chamber Media Services
Former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband wasn’t afraid to mince his words when he addressed delegates at the Conference.
Worldwide, politicians “have had their heads in the sand” over climate change, he said, and the current crisis over the environment was the result of “a failure of leadership for over 30 years” on the issue.
The conference, held virtually, took as its theme Connecting the World: Tackling our global challenges together, and was tasked with finding the role that businesses could play in tackling climate change.
Miliband – now President and CEO of the New York-based International Rescue Committee – told the conference that Covid had highlighted the weakness of global institutions, and the only response should be a strengthening of bodies such as the World Health Organization and UN groups working on the environment. He was alarmed by the response to the recent IPCC report, which he described as:
“a red flag demanding action: we need to be on a war footing to beat climate change.”
He called on business leaders to make climate change their number one priority. Those worried about whether businesses could afford to make the transition to carbon Net Zero were warned that “inaction will cost considerably more” using the devastation caused by recent flooding in Europe and wildfires in North America as his evidence.
Businesses needed to adopt a strong policy of decarbonisation now, and he was critical of those happy to adopt greenwashing policies that look good on paper but achieve little. “We must reduce carbon use; it’s no good thinking you can compensate for your business’s emissions by planting a tree or using carbon sinks.”
He wasn’t optimistic that a solution could be found but he did point out that society had “more tools at our disposal than ever before to come up with the answers.”
His criticism of Happy Talk – comments made to highlight progress on carbon emissions without focusing on the areas where improvements were scarce – could have been directed at Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, who opened conference with a glowing report of recent Government initiatives in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Kwasi Kwarteng’s comments were challenged immediately by Kate Chambers of the 2050 Climate Group, who pointed out that UK carbon reductions failed to include emissions linked to imported goods or aviation. She also gave conference a ‘hurry-up’ call over the UK’s plan to be Net Zero in carbon by 2050; if that seemed a short timeline, she pointed out that children born during the upcoming COP26 in Glasgow would be 29 by the time the target was reached.
“Does that not seem slow to you?” she asked.
A packed conference day also heard from a panel of business leaders who had climate change and improving sustainability at the heart of their business models, while Dr Katherine Trebeck suggested “our entire economic model needs refocusing to ensure that society and nature’s wellbeing are our primary concerns. The current model breeds inequality and “an unsustainable use of natural resources”