Activism and Pragmatism in Evidence at London’s edie 2023

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    London (NordSIP) – This week NordSIP partnered with UK-based Sustainability platform edie for its annual gathering in London.  Edie 23 took place on March 1st and 2nd under the banner “Leadership Through Crisis,” bringing together more than 600 delegates and speakers from industry, academia, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and policymaking.

    Nature takes centre stage

    Following the global agreement reached at COP15 in Montreal last December, biodiversity and nature-based solutions were high on the forum agenda.  Tanya Steele, Chief Executive of WWF UK, brings the audience up to speed with developments that she believes may have been drowned out by the noise of the myriad ongoing geo-political events: “COP15 is probably one of the most important UN meetings that nobody has ever heard of.”  Steele, who was involved in the COP15 discussions, describes how the mood of the delegates in Montreal ebbed and flowed: “At times we were incredibly pessimistic and worried, but we knew we needed a strong outcome as nature is in crisis.  Global wildlife populations have fallen by 69% on average since 1970, so there was some relief when the gavel did finally fall on a relatively strong agreement.  It was perhaps stronger than many thought it would be.  Crucially, it commits to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030.  This is the global mission that has been lacking, and is the equivalent of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees.”  Steele goes on to describe the goal of protecting 30% of land, fresh water and ocean globally, also known as the 30×30 target.  She also emphasises the attention paid in the agreement to the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, which Steele believes is a vital component of any global deal to protect nature.

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    Optimism and activism

    Elsewhere in the conference, the excellent mix of speakers gives rise to lively debates about the state of sustainability in the world.  Nigel Topping, former UK Climate Champion at Glasgow’s COP26 is irresistibly positive – perhaps despite the UK government’s at-best patchy performance since presiding over the event.  Topping firmly believes that global capital is moving in the right direction, and that the pace of technological change is exceeding expectations, all of which will mean that the world will reach net-zero ahead of schedule.  Nevertheless, he strikes a note of caution regarding the global North/South divide, fearing that many developing nations will not reap the full benefits of this global transformation.  Steve Howard, Chief Sustainability Officer of State-owned Singaporean investment firm Temasek, answers questions about the nascent ESG-backlash in bullish manner.  In his view, these attacks are a sign of success.  He believes the sustainability movement is unstoppable, and its opponents are becoming increasingly aware of that fact.

    Former Unilever CEO and current pillar of the ESG community Paul Polman still believes businesses and policymakers should be doing far more and moving faster.  He bemoans the acceptance of ESG targets that amount simply to doing less harm, comparing this to a murderer rewarded for agreeing to cut down on the number of deaths.  He and other delegates advocate for more ambitious targets, for example reaching a carbon-positive state rather than the compromise of net-zero.  This is echoed by the voice of youth in the form of climate activist Mikaela Loach, who clearly articulates her generation’s desire for a complete rethink and redesign of the global economy away from purely growth-driven targets.  Having been promoted by the likes of former governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, such ambitions are no longer seen as marginal.  Loach was one of the plaintiffs who successfully sued the UK government over breaches of the country’s Climate Change Act.

    Reporting and accountability

    Moving away from high-level discussions on the direction of travel of the world of sustainability, many delegates are focused on the more mundane tasks of trying to handle rapidly growing mountain of ESG-related reporting that is required by company stakeholders and regulators.  Richard Howitt, former CEO of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) is well placed to oversee a thoroughly packed worked working group of the topic.  Harriett Howey’s team at Diageo hold the UK record for timeliness in providing a full set of sustainability reports after year-end.  She talks the audience through the process, which is so labour intensive that is raises doubts about smaller and medium enterprises’ ability to dedicate enough resources to fulfil all these different requirements.  It is broadly agreed that the interoperability and convergence of global standards cannot come soon enough.

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