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September 18, 2023

Editor’s note: why we are stuck in the ‘messy middle’

Climate Group CEO Helen Clarkson speaking at New York Climate Week (Photo:  climateweeknyc.org)
Climate Group CEO Helen Clarkson speaking at New York Climate Week (Photo: climateweeknyc.org)

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Dear reader,

“We are at an extremely challenging moment in time — what I like to call the messy middle,” said Helen Clarkson, CEO of Climate Group, in yesterday’s opening speech to New York Climate Week.

“Progress is going head to head with vested interests,” she said. “Clean energy and clean tech have become a real threat for companies that are fossil fuel-based. They are pushing back like there’s literally no tomorrow, making huge profits while they can.”

“But make no mistake, change is happening,” insisted Clarkson, citing how “business giants” were shifting to renewables.

“When business giants speak, governments at all levels had better listen,” said Clarkson. “The market is taking action, and all of a sudden, jumping on the energy transition is about business survival.”

California dreamin’

We are very much stuck in the “messy middle”, not just because of the potential for massive short-term profits, but also because businesses and governments are wrestling with the climate crisis in an increasingly ideologically divided world.

The progressive state of California has announced it will sue five of the world’s largest oil and gas companies for their “decades-long campaign of deception” about climate change and the risks posed by fossil fuels that have forced the state to spend tens of billions of dollars to address environmental-related damages.

Further, the state’s governor Gavin Newsom has pledged to sign legislation that would require large corporations to disclose their carbon footprints.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, tens of thousands of climate activists took to the streets of New York City calling for an end to fossil fuels.

Republican presidential candidates, on the other hand, are calling for the US to “drill, frack, burn coal” to boost its economy and create jobs.

In London, and cities the world over, the “messy middle” is being played out as low emissions zones, bike lanes and reduced speed limits — put in place to reduce greenhouse gases and air pollution — are largely supported or vehemently opposed along ideological and political lines.

ESG politicisation

Alex’s story, about how experts fear that attempts by the UK regulator to rejuvenate the London listings regime could attract companies with weaker governance and prompt an increase in litigation from investors, follows a similar logic as ESG compliance becomes “a highly politicised area”.

Claudia, meanwhile, delves into the murky world of trade deals and looks at how disagreements over the enforcement of sustainability safeguards continue to hamper the drawn-out negotiations between the EU and South American countries over a possible free trade deal.

Risk of extinction

In the long run, Clarkson suggested, given the impacts of climate change already being seen, governments and businesses have no choice but to move with the times — they can become truly sustainable or doom themselves to extinction.

The responsibility for climate action “rests squarely with all of us — there’s safety and power in numbers,” concluded Clarkson. “It’s no longer a few visionaries — it’s all of us, and we can, we will”.

Silvia will update us throughout the week from New York as to what’s happening at Climate Week. If you are also attending, get in touch with Silvia or share your views via email.

Finally, immediately after its launch later today, we will bring you analysis of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures framework.

Stay tuned,

Philippa

Philippa Nuttall is EU correspondent at Sustainable Views

A service from the Financial Times