Engaging with business on climate change and sustainable development

For businesses to act on climate change, they need to hear a combination of messages that convey urgency but also an optimism that they can make a difference. This was one of the central arguments made at a roundtable last week on climate change, business and sustainable development hosted by the IDS China Centre and the Business, Markets and the State research cluster at the Institute of Development Studies.

Running in parallel to the COP26 climate summit, the roundtable discussion aimed to answer how businesses in the Global North and South should respond to climate change and take positive action to tackle the effects of climate change. This included a focus on China’s climate policy and the role of Chinese companies.

Guest speakers at the roundtable included business leader Wang Shi, the President of Vanke Foundation and Founder of Vanke Group, China’s leading real estate company; Peter Taylor, IDS’ Director of Research; Jing Gu, leader of the IDS China Centre. Alongside, Swenja Surminski, Head of Adaptation Research at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE; Laura Kelly, Director of Shaping Sustainable Markets at IIED; and Paul Ekins, Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy from the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources all contributed to the discussion citing evidence from their recent research.

Taking a proactive versus a reactive approach to climate change

Now that many businesses globally are experiencing supply chain problems and other disruptions due to climate change, there was a shared view that action was needed to both address the immediate impacts as much as reduce future risks. Crucial was a need to impart to the private section that action was urgently needed but to take an optimistic and hopeful note that change could be achieved. Rather than being pessimistic and focussed on doomsday scenarios, businesses had to be inspired to act proactively towards addressing climate change.

‘Solutions’ can also cause problems

Among participants, there was optimism around the potential for technology to realise adaptations that could lead to more sustainable energy sources and practises. But, there was also a concern of the unintended consequences that some climate change ‘solutions’ can have on marginalised and vulnerable communities. This was felt to be a particular risk if these communities are not included in the policy making and decision processes.

The roundtable ended with a ‘call to action’ that, when it came to the complex, global challenge of climate change, more had to be done to share knowledge and encourage mutual learning across sectors – business, governments, development actors and those at the front line of climate change. Only in this way could the most effective and appropriate, sustainable solutions to be found. As one participant put it ‘we all need to be part of the solution and act with a shared sense of urgency’.

This news item was first published on the IDS website on 10 November 2021. 

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