Reflections on The New York Times Climate Forward Conference & lessons for business

“Stay resolute, be stubbornly optimistic and don’t get distracted” was the message that rang loud throughout The New York Time’s Climate Forward event at The Conduit, which RISE partner Charles Perry and consultant Tarryn Rennie participated in.

It was a rollercoaster week, with the fourth London Climate Week taking place as the US Supreme Court curtailed the power of the Federal Government (EPA) to limit harmful greenhouse gas pollution from power plants. The impressive gathering responded with both frustration and anger, provoked by several of these big backward steps so soon after COP26. A knock-on of negatives triggered primarily by Putin’s invasion of Ukraineh as sent fossil fuel prices skyrocketing and caused immediate energy security to trump decarbonisation efforts.

With the world rapidly approaching tipping points, action on runaway climate change clearly can’t be delayed. As climate scientist Johan Rockström of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Stockholm Resilience Centre said, “1.5C is not a goal, it is a planetary boundary and a very dangerous limit which we are fast approaching”.

After 26 COPs since 1995, it has become futile to pin too much hope on international treaties or government regulation to reduce harmful pollution. Seven years after the signing of the Paris Agreement, emissions are still rising! However, the theme of stubborn optimism continued throughout the conference, because there is simply no choice – and a huge opportunity for business to RISE up and unleash the solutions that only businesses can deliver.

How can businesses RISE above?

1. Purpose & Values: aligning personal and organisational values to BE and Do Good Business.
2. Leadership: leaders need to push through the fog of short-term thinking to role model and exemplify longer-term, sustainable behaviour. Creating longer-term stakeholder value is in a business’ self-interest as this has a positive impact on trust, reputation, risk management, innovation, employee engagement, customer acquisition/loyalty, operational efficiency, and hence financial performance. By prioritising long-term value creation, leaders can drive transformation of a system that currently only favours short-termist behaviour.
3. Every little helps: focus on the areas your organisation can have the biggest impact, instead of spreading too thin. One way to determine the areas most relevant and important to a business is by conducting a materiality assessment. By staying focused, businesses can have a much bigger, faster, and concentrated impact than typically imagined.
4. Reach beyond your grasp: one of the most common pieces of feedback we receive from clients is “we don’t know how we’ll get there.” It’s only through setting audacious goals that the unimaginable becomes possible. As Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
5. Deliver, deliver, deliver: the “age of implementation” is here, according to Matthew Phillips of the United Nations Climate Champions. What’s needed to deliver on commitments and implement systemic change is radical collaboration, and an abundance of willpower.

Yes, climate change is an emergency today but there are many reasons to remain stubbornly optimistic. The conference highlighted just how many innovative ideas and solutions there are, just waiting to be unleashed and scaled, and what power there is in radical collaboration to implement these to reduce the looming devastation and improve the resilience of our businesses and communities – and the well-being of humanity.