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Amelia Watts, Blueprint

At Blueprint, we believe that every step towards climate action is something that should be recognised. There has been a huge surge in citizen activism – notably the school strikes across the world – and the last few days have seen a flood of activity around the challenge that climate change presents to society.

The arrests of 300+ nonviolent protesters who blocked London traffic may have made the headlines, but the Extinction Rebellion group has also drawn attention for bringing together people from many walks of life including parents, children, scientists, and teachers, alongside long-term environmentalists. Its demands are:

  1. Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change
  2. Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025
  3. Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice

Rather than seeming like a fringe movement, this protest has instead coincided with renewed calls for action from across society, including many other influential bodies and businesses. This is an indication of the seriousness with which all parts of society are now viewing this climate disaster.

‘Climate change poses significant risks to the economy and to the financial system, and while these risks may seem abstract and far away, they are in fact very real, fast approaching and in need of action today.’ Speaking on Monday, the Bank of England head of international banks supervision, Sarah Breeden, sent a clear message to the financial sector that they cannot avoid ‘the storm’ of climate change and must instead take action. In doing so she is telling bankers and insurers that from now on they are expected to make acting on global warming central to the way they operate. Her speech established how the Bank of England is supporting this, including through the Prudential Regulation Authority’s (PRA) publication today of its supervisory expectations for managing these risks. The PRA is the first regulator in the world to publish such expectations.

This week the largest money manager in the UK, Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), which manages £1 trillion worth of UK pension fund investments signalled its commitments to action on climate and equality in its eighth annual corporate governance report. Sacha Sadan, Director of Corporate Governance said, “More and more people are realising this, especially as we have seen further evidence that the effects of climate change will soon be irreversible. This will affect economies, politics and, as a result, our clients’ assets all around the world. We all need to move faster.” LGIM is committing to holding businesses to account around climate issues, as well as diversity and equality. This will include continuing to divest of companies from its Future Worlds Funds, for issues from poor governance and climates disclosures to lobbying governments on ‘policies that risk accelerating climate change’.

Within organisations, employees are also attempting to drive this message home. Last week 6,342 Amazon employees leveraged their position as shareholders in an open letter calling for the company to release a business-wide climate plan with specific goals and set timelines – meeting the six principles they set out. They believe ‘Amazon has the resources and scale to spark the world’s imagination and redefine what is possible and necessary to address the climate crisis.’ Their goal is ‘that climate change is something they [Amazon employees and leaders] think about whenever a business decision is being made.’ This extremely rare show of internal shareholder pressure chimes with the urgency and consensus with which many people now see the need for climate action. In fact ‘7 out of 10 Americans now say that global warming is ‘personally important’ to them’ – while in the UK 63% of UK adults agree the ‘the UK should be a global leader in tackling climate change’.

What next? We believe all businesses need to take action to address the environmental challenges we all face. A business that benefits society by definition is one that does all it can to minimise harm to the environment. Containing and reversing environmental damage and climate change is urgent, and therefore all businesses have an important role to play. 

Businesses can no longer refuse responsibility for the detrimental environmental externalities caused directly or indirectly by their activities, nor ignore the risk climate change poses to them as organisations and to customers, employees and society. Instead, a business can think about the opportunities embedding sustainability as part of their core strategy offers.

This article highlights just a few examples of the groundswell in conversations, pressure, and action to meet the challenge of climate change we’ve seen over the last year. Coming from across society they show the role individuals, governing bodies, investors and companies can play in addressing this issue – and give a powerful indication to any business still sitting on the fence that the time is now and the steps any business takes will be welcomed by many.

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