Last week in City AM there was an article on the big banks. Not on the threats they face from fintech. Not on the gaping holes that will appear in our high streets as the traditional bank branches inevitably close. No, it was an opinion piece: How Banks should be looking at the Climate Change Challenge.
Meanwhile the previous Friday had seen schoolchildren around the world come out on strike to raise awareness of climate change – and call on the older generation to do more about it.
Climate change is front and centre. Whether it is fires in the Amazon or floods in North Yorkshire it’s on virtually every news bulletin.
I suspect there will be the full range of opinions among people reading this blog. There’ll be those who believe – as I do – that climate change is entirely man-made. There will be those who believe the Earth simply warms up and cools down and we just happened to start measuring as it was warming up.
There will be people who regard Greta Thunberg as the outstanding young woman of her generation. There’ll be those who see her as the modern equivalent of the medieval priestess, wandering from village to village claiming to have seen a vision from God.
For the purpose of this blog, what you believe doesn’t matter. Climate change – or, if you like, the perception of climate change – does matter, because we as business owners are going to have to deal with it.
If you go back 15 months to June 2018 – and what a calm, measured time in British politics June 2018 now appears – the Commons Environmental Audit Committee was recommending that climate risk reporting should be mandatory by 2022. That large companies and ‘asset owners’ (such as pension funds) should be compelled to report on their exposure to climate change risks and opportunities.
Mary Creagh, the Labour MP for Wakefield who is Chair of the Committee, said, “Long term decision making must be factored into financial decision making.”
Back in June 2018 I suspect most people reading this blog would have read that report, shrugged and moved on. They didn’t come under the Government’s definition of a large company, they didn’t run a pension fund and while climate change was important, it wasn’t quite as important as meeting the year’s targets.
But events have moved very quickly. Whoever is Prime Minister this time next year is going to have climate change right at the top of their agenda. And never mind large companies and pension funds – I suspect it’s going to impact all our businesses.
There will, of course, be people who say, ‘Why bother?’ At first sight the case is tempting. After all, China has produced more steel in the past two years than the UK has ever produced. Clearly producing all that steel must have had some environmental impact.
Pollution in our oceans? More than 90% of all the rubbish polluting our seas comes from just 10 rivers. The Yangtze alone pours an estimated 1.5 million metric tons of plastic into the Yellow Sea each year.
So as someone recently said to me, “Paying 5p for a plastic bag ain’t going to make a whole lot of difference, Ed.”
Statistically, it isn’t. But just because pollution is happening on a huge scale in some parts of the world, it doesn’t mean we can ignore smaller scale problems at home.
What the UK does have is a voice – and the impact that voice can have is huge. But if we are to have any influence, we have to put our money where our mouth is: we have to walk the climate change talk.
That brings me back to the politicians. I’m writing this on Wednesday afternoon, just after Boris Johnson’s conference speech. He referenced climate change and the UK’s move to being carbon neutral any number of times in the speech. He may or may not be Prime Minister this time next year: but if he’s replaced, it won’t be by someone who puts less emphasis on climate change.
Exactly the opposite.
If one-in-three businesses don’t have any plan in place for Brexit, then I suspect that barely one in 300 has given any thought to an annual ‘climate change audit.’
But I would wager a Newcastle United season ticket – and there’s a currency that makes Bitcoin look stable and secure – that five years from now we’ll all be submitting a lot more than our accounts to Companies House. I think an annual report on your energy use/commitment to green energy/exposure to climate risk is inevitable.
…As are more protests. Someone asked me recently if I’d be prepared to let the TAB head office staff have time off work to protest against climate change. Make no mistake, climate change is going to present plenty of issues for business owners to deal with. It would be a good idea to start thinking and planning now.
Interestingly, my youngest son asked his head teacher the ‘could I have time off’ question. Could he miss a few lessons so he could join in the protests? “Of course, Rory,” the head replied. “You can go at lunchtime when you’d be playing football.”
He swiftly re-considered…