The Supper Club - Logo

Reasons to be climate cheerful

As the great and the good gathered in Glasgow this week for the latest UN climate conference, the big question has been "will it make any difference?". Answers to this fall naturally into two camps. For pessimists this is just another round of talking, more of what Greta Thunberg calls "blah, blah, blah". It is a waste of time and resources, with the estimated 55,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions created by the event symptomatic of why it does more harm than good.


For others, the fuss and focus being made of the climate crisis is in itself enough to make this a triumphant success. When the world's elite start paying attention to something, whether it's hypocritical virtue signalling or a genuine desire for change, it marks an inflexion point at which things start to happen and we start to shape a more positive future for the planet.


Here are some reasons that things may be swaying towards the latter, more optimistic perspective.


1. Dornbusch's Law

He's a long-standing climate crisis campaigner and a veteran of these conferences, so it was good to hear former US Vice President sounding upbeat about the outcome from Cop26. But perhaps his most telling soundbite was his citing German economist Rudi Dornbusch, whose comments on a currency crisis have become enshrined as Dornbusch's Law. This states that change always take longer than you expect to happen, but then unfolds much more quickly than you thought it could. While the downside is that the climate crisis itself is accelerating more rapidly than many thought it would, so too are the economic and technological innovations needed to solve the crisis or delay or mitigate the worst of its effects.


2. Money talks

While there have been some great announcements at Cop26 on forests and commitments to cut down on coal, perhaps the most striking was the launch of the Mark Carney-fronted Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ). This is an alliance of some of the world's largest financial institutions, with a claim that it represents some $130tn of money that it is ready to invest in the transition to net zero. Naturally, keen-eyed observers wanted to investigate and interrogate the headline number. It may have a hint of greenwash and a shade of double counting about it, but does it matter if the total figure is a little overblown? In essence this is most of the key players in the global financial system getting together to recognise the role they have to play - and, yes the opportunity there is for a healthy return - in funding the transition to net zero. How can it be anything other than good news?


3. Sustainable air travel edges closer

With an estimated 85% of Cop26's own carbon footprint coming from air travel, it was a welcome moment when a new company announced a major innovation in sustainable aviation fuel. Hydrogen is recognised as the most likely replacement for the kerosene most planes burn today. But how to make this stable and safe has long been the challenge. At Cop26 an as yet unnamed company announced a new project to retrofit existing planes with ammonia reactors, that would be able to turn liquid ammonia (safer to store) into hydrogen. It is early days, but could be in use by the end of the decade. Maybe Cop40 will be completely carbon neutral.


4. B Corp is here to help

The announcement on sustainable air travel got across another message - that the solution to the climate crisis will come from business. With its focus on the very practical steps that companies can take, its requirement for constant certification renewal and continuous improvement, and the fact it requires good behaviours to be deeply embedded across the whole organisation, there are many reasons to see B Corp as a force for positive change. There are now over 500 B Corps in the UK, employing 22,000 staff and with almost £2.5bn of revenue. With 5,000 B Corps worldwide, and many more using the B Labs certification framework to address and improve behaviours across their business, the movement is growing and its positive impact is increasing.


5. Tech billionaires also have a role to play

B Corp and other initiatives, such as the NED-focused organisation Chapter Zero, matter because they show business leaders the positive impact that focusing on the climate crisis and the transition to net zero can have. This matters because ultimately it will be the private sector that delivers the innovations that are most likely to solve the crisis - or help us mitigate the worst of the impacts of climate change. And for all that the tech billionaires, such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, want to shoot themselves and random celebrities into space, they are also deeply concerned with their own mortality, longevity and legacy. What's the point of keeping yourself alive forever on a planet that's destroying itself? Assuming neither sets up a colony on Mars, they may as well focus energies on solving the technological challenges (from removal of atmospheric CO2 to re-cooling melting glaciers) that could ultimately help us reverse current global warming trends.