How Can Investors Help the Climate Crisis: Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson Has the Answer
“So, what is the globalist agenda?” asked a friend recently, mostly in jest. My answer was short but sweet: to reconfigure the business paradigm so the economy powers the restoration of ecosystems and justice, rather than powering their decline. Elaborating on this point, on July 10th, Mr. Ibrahim AlHusseini, Founder of FullCycle — which focuses on investing in market-ready, society-scalable technical solutions to restore ecosystems and combat climate change — interviewed Mrs. Mary Robinson, Chairwoman of The Elders and former President of Ireland, to discuss what investors should be doing to help make a dent in the climate emergency and world crises.
Mrs. Robinson, the former UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, who penned the 2018 book Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future, emphasized that investors have a leadership role to play in shaping firms’ decisions. She said it is vital that investors and businesses commit to being zero-carbon by 2050 and to start now visualizing what that must look like, in order to work backwards to construct strategic plans. She said firms who assess, now, the costs of carbon pricing to their bottom lines would, at the same time, measure their climate exposure risk, illustrating their own costs to society and helping move the needle more quickly. And she said investors should scold and withhold investments from firms who fail to produce comprehensive zero-carbon action plans soon.
Robinson is a member of the B Team, a network of leaders from business and civil society working together to reshape business norms for an actionable pivot toward maximizing stakeholder value, rather than the prior focus on shareholders alone. This zero-carbon commitment was made by B Team members at recent Davos meetings, where they oriented around a framework that doesn’t just combat climate change, but also implements climate justice and the “Just Transition,” including the welfare of workers and communities in corporate planning.
Robinson says governments, too, have a role to play. She praised the EU’s €750 billion recovery package, which includes a Green Deal toward carbon neutrality and a circular economy, a fund for the Just Transition to green jobs, and biodiversity protections.
Robinson touched on a variety of topics demonstrating our global interconnectedness. When AlHusseini mentioned that the flight of 3 million refugees from Iraq and Syria nearly collapsed the EU, Robinson said that what the world should do to prepare for up to 170 million climate-displaced people is that countries must pursue compassion and solidarity as national concepts. She said the public image of climate change should be a woman desperate to get water, not just a polar bear on an ice floe. And she also described how COVID is becoming a major debt problem in Africa, because the economic slowdown has caused the loss of jobs in the Global North, from which remittances are drying up.
“What we call ‘business as usual’ was not leading us to a safe world for our children and grandchildren,” Robinson said. “It was too unequal. The build-back from the 2008 financial crisis favored banks and those at higher incomes, both globally and in the U.S. What we see now is the need to think in different terms,” she said, highlighting the importance of focusing on stakeholders, which includes workers, communities, and the tech that businesses use to achieve their goals.
“I’m keen to encourage this movement by the private sector to forge a new social contract, and an understanding that people need safety nets in their lives. COVID is a mirror, it has exacerbated inequalities, and we’re all linked — if you’re poor, if you have black or brown skin, if you’re a woman or indigenous,” you are being impacted disproportionately by the COVID crisis, and “what I like about private sector conversations is that it seems to understand our humanity better. People are entitled to prosper and make money, but they should have much more concern than Milton Friedman’s maxim that ‘the business of business is business.’”
Robinson highlighted as a positive example French firm Danone, which has pledged to keeping all employees on payroll during COVID, and praised Brazilian firm Natura & Co. for its commitment to climate neutrality. She said she’s pleased to see increasing emphasis on putting women and people of color on corporate boards. And she praised the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping America and the world. Recounting the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that “all humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” she says that helping the furthest behind first — the homeless person stepped over, the black, brown, and indigenous people historically dispossessed — helps to restore human dignity, from which follows a restoration of human rights.
With the U.S. economy losing about $1 trillion a month in GDP growth due to COVID, and with all governments in the world putting up about $9 trillion so far in loans and schemes to keep us afloat, AlHusseini said that there is no silo for the economy, health, social justice, and climate change. He said we cannot think of any one issue without thinking of the others, and that it’s vital to understand one simple truth: that we are all in a closed sphere in space and depend on a very specific chemical balance to uphold our entire civilization.
While the future may seem dire, Mrs. Robinson closed with a quote from her friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “I am not an optimist, I am a prisoner of hope.” The climate crisis could be so discouraging it de-motivates people from taking action. But, Robinson said, if you are a prisoner of hope, you begin by saying “this is doable, I’m going to do what I can about it. We will get through this, we will have a safe world for our children and grandchildren.”
Mary Robinson in the former President of Ireland and current Chair of The Elders, succeeding Kofi Annan. She hosts a podcast called Mothers of Invention, celebrating amazing women doing remarkable things in pursuit of climate justice.
Ibrahim AlHusseini is the Founder and Managing Partner of FullCycle, investing in market-ready, society-scale technologies designed to reverse the harms of climate change and advance ecological restoration.
James Carli is a fundraising researcher at the United States Association for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (USA for UNHCR), and, separately, a freelance writer and activist working to promote positive change.