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Corporate Leaders Group: Eliot Whittington, CISL Founder Director Dame Polly Courtice, Anglian Water CEO Peter Simpson & EDF Energy Non-Exec. Chairman Colin Matthews.

Corporates and small businesses can ease the passage of transition to a clean economy if the government come forward on policy. A new report, Acting Together, from the Corporate Leaders Group has come at a unique time in social and political history.

Emergency hopscotch

Launching the new report (Acting Together) to lobby the government to take action to achieve net-zero whilst in the midst of the rapid onset of COVID19, may not have been a foreseen predicament. In this less than ideal situation, perhaps there is an opportunity to use one crisis to anticipate the other, as opposed to haphazardly hopping from one to the other. 

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Decarbonising Britain

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is making it very clear that we are not currently on a net-zero trajectory and, in this critical year of action, we need to formulate plans and alliances that will accelerate our passage to a safer future.

The Corporate leaders Group Director, Eliot Whittington, emphasised that the Acting Together report is a list of requests to government to work with them on policy to benefit the country across the board.

The main areas outlined in the report are in line with the CCC’s priority areas including power demand and supply, domestic transport, home heating and efficiency, agriculture and lands, and heavy industry.

Interrelated solutions

Anglian Water CEO, Peter Simpson, made the point that what we were anticipating back in 2012, in terms of climate impacts, is now the new norm. The UK, as with many other countries, can rapidly switch from a drought situation to a deluge situation with flood damage being just one increased stresses on the system.

It is not just net-zero that is the issue. It is also the wellbeing of our citizens and knowledge that we have a pathway to future resilience against ever more extreme climate impacts. This is all in the context of the COVID19 crisis and property damage from three back to back named storms in the UK. 

Solving these complex problems requires dialogue and collaboration across all actors including the public, businesses and government policymakers. Currently, we don’t have this. We have feint signals but no concerted planning and action.

Cautious interactions

One voice in the room, Allen Creedy from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), was keen to extend the discussion beyond the sphere of large corporate business and make sure that their 250,000 small business members are also represented.

Creedy stated that small businesses in the UK are signalling that they are ready to invest in a clean future but to date, they have been let down by government policy. Whether it was by being told to buy diesel vans, then hybrids, or switching to solar panels, the policies that lured them in were quick to dissipate once they had invested.

Opportunities can be infectious 

Decarbonisation is meant to be a mainstream conversation in 2020, as we approach the UNFCCC COP26, a milestone event in the long-drawn-out process of global climate planning. Add to this that the UK is the 2020 host and that we want to project an aura of leadership. 

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Yet, we find ourselves now, like many other nations, caught in the headlights of the COVID19 outbreak asking ourselves if this is the big event that will stifle all our efforts. People are dying, markets are crashing, leaders are faltering.

Before the panic sets in, we need to take a strategic approach to the current state of play. Yes, this is real and has existential implications for many but it also is giving us a pause from business as usual. 

Governments have a unique (despite all incidences of tragedy) opportunity to consider the reset options for going forward with a population that is already experiencing climate anxiety and who are calling out for change.

Acting together

Speaking on the US news outlet, MSNBC, yesterday the former US treasury adviser, Gary Cohn, said that, ‘There is not a liquidity crisis in the financial system. The banks are awash with cash.’ Borrowing for governments and businesses is cheap because there are so few safe havens for investing money. Institutional lenders are literally giving the money away.

If we go back to the key areas of priority such as home heating and efficiency, for example, the report says that 50% of homeowners in the UK say that their houses are difficult and expensive to heat. 

A national retrofitting programme that engages business large and small, funded by government grants to build resilience could act as a huge economic and jobs stimulus at a time when the government is facing a perilous national outlook.

From the playground to solid ground

If we are going to hopscotch from this terrible crisis to one that dovetails with responsible climate action, then now is the time to act. This report is an opening gesture with small clear steps. The small business community want to join in, as much as the public needs a foundation of hope to build a more secure future. The government have a responsibility to act wisely; we await their reply.

The Corporate Leaders Report can be downloaded here.