This editionThis is Author Talks, McKinsey Global Publishing’s Raju Narisetti chats with John Doerr, investor and the chairman of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. His new book is available here Speed & Scale: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now (Penguin Random House, November 2021), Doerr offers an actionable plan to conquer humanity’s greatest challenge: climate change. This edited version of their conversation includes quotations from Doerr’s book by policy makers, scientists, entrepreneurs, activists, and others (in blue).
What gives you hope for this issue?
There’s no guarantee we’re going to cut our carbon emissions in time. We’ve got a very, very long way to go, and we’re not moving nearly fast enough. There are some things that give me hope compared to 12 or 14 years ago. First of all, there’s tens of millions of climate activists, who are now getting mobilized, and I’m truly inspired by the international school strikes. Greta Thunberg, one student, was in 2018 She mobilized four million people worldwide in September 2019.
We must act immediately, and I believe that there is collective energy available to do so. With the Climate Pledge … we now have more than one hundred signatory companies with $1.4 trillion in annual revenue and more than five million employees around the world. You can’t get to net zero on your own .…To make the kind of change we’re talking about, you have to get these supply chains to move together.
Jeff Bezos is the founder and executive chairman of Amazon.
The commitments made by Fortune 50 and Fortune 500 global corporations, such as Apple and Walmart to reduce or eliminate their emissions by 2030 is another reason to be optimistic. Third, there’s the potential for really radical innovation to make clean energy more affordable. It is the cost that matters here. Whether it’s better batteries, green hydrogen, or low-carbon cement, we have an enormous amount of work to do in innovation. Finally, there’s awe-inspiring pressure from employees, shareholders, and investors: $29 trillion of investor capital is now committed to push corporations for sustainability. These are all encouraging signs for me.
The world is in bad shape. Our urgency must be greater and our goals should be higher. We set a goal to achieve net-zero emission in our own operations by 2040, without any offsets, in 2019. At the same time, we need to not only slow the harm and get to carbon neutral, but to find ways to add back ….We’re out to become a regenerative company.
Doug McMillon, chief executive officer and president of Walmart
What surprised and astonished you most about this book?
Here are a few. I knew this was a complicated topic, but I didn’t grasp the enormity of the challenge when I began the book. First of all, let’s talk about speed. According to the United Nations, at the world’s current rate of carbon emissions, we’re going to cross the red line into irreversible climate damage in less than seven years. The global carbon budget that can be extended or emitted is 400 gigatons, so it is a race against the clock. Then there’s the scale of the problem. To reach carbon net zero, which is the only way to control global warming, we can’t just decarbonize the grid or electrify transportation or improve our food systems or any of the many other emissions cuts that are in our book.
If we don’t achieve what we need to between 2020 and 2030, we can’t achieve net zero by 2050. We can’t afford to wait for something to be discovered. That would be the height of irresponsibility and recklessness .…Glasgow1This is the moment when the world can unite and tackle this crisis.
John Kerry, US special presidential Envoy for Climate Change
We’re also going to literally have to remove carbon from the atmosphere and pump—the estimates are—five billion tons of CO2Every year, underground. Five billion tons. That’s the equivalent of running the entire global oil industry in reverse. All in all, this is a bigger mobilization than what we had in World War II, when you’ll remember the Allied factories stopped making cars and appliances to make 14,000 battleships and 286,000 airplanes. It’s the enormity of the challenge that really came home
As I did the research.
Please tell us about the ten major goals you have set.
They’re pragmatic and based on actions grounded in the current science. If we focus on the things that matter—not the bright, shiny objects, but the essence of this plan—there are ten big, truly global objectives by which we’ll directly cut or remove carbon emissions, including how we electrify transportation, how we decarbonize the grid, how we feed ten billion people, how we protect our forests and our oceans, how we clean up concrete and steel, essential materials, and then remove the stubborn carbon that’s left in the atmosphere.
You need to be willing to do the right thing—and, frankly, your employees expect it .…It’s not a choice between stakeholder capitalism versus shareholder capitalism; they’re inextricably linked.
Mary Barra, Chairman and CEO, General Motors
This job can be accomplished in a short time by using ten big solutions and four accelerators. We can’t wait until 2060 to solve this problem. If we enact the right policies, turn movements into action, we innovate like crazy, and invest like our lives depended on it—because they do—those distinguishing elements of this plan, based on Objectives and Key Results, give me hope.
Will there be a global embrace of the idea?
For each of these ten objectives, there’s a handful of key results that, if we achieve them, will meet the objective that’s put forth. These are the details of speed, scale. Now, that’s in the context of a planet that’s been miserable in our response to the COVID-19 crisis. It’s clear that being science based, having steady and consistent leadership, and investing ahead of the problem are relevant to the climate crisis.
It is our fiduciary duty to ensure that the companies in which our clients invest have addressed these material issues.
both in managing climate risks and capturing opportunities to grow their business .…Can capitalism shape the curve of climate change?
The answer is yes. It is possible, I believe. But we do have a
There’s still a lot to do.
Larry Fink, BlackRock’s chairman and chief executive officer
The first principle here, I believe, is that in a global economy, global markets are going to push countries to pursue what’s in their national self-interest. Two points are made about this. The 21st century’s greatest economic opportunity is the transition towards a net-zero society. In fact, there’s 25 million new net jobs to be had this decade. The climate crisis is the second important point. This climate crisis is not going to be solved by one country. We will all be able to swim together or sink together.
A holistic approach is necessary to ensure a just transition. We need an economic shift, and a living-wage shift, and an educational-attainment shift, and an economic-opportunity shift. We must address all pieces of the puzzle.
Dr. Margot Brown, associate Vice President, Environmental Justice and Equity Initiatives at Environmental Defense Fund
What will this look like for India, perhaps?
What would it take to get India committed to net zero or, even more difficult, Russia to commit to net 0. They’re two really very different cases. India’s leadership sees clean energy as a chance to leapfrog old fossil fuels.
The developing countries will decide whether the game is won or lost. The United States has about half of the entire globe’s innovation power. The world owes it to us to harness that power to lower green premiums and allow countries like India to accept these solutions.
Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The developed world must make clean-energy solutions more accessible to all. Electric vehicles, for example, will be competitive in the US at $35,000 To compete with the internal-combustion engines in India, electric vehicles must cost $11,000. This is to avoid what Bill Gates calls “the green premium”. At the grid level in India, they’ve declared a national mission to become a global leader in solar energy. To do so, they’re going to need substantial financing from wealthier countries, namely the US, China, and members of the European Union.
What about Russia?
Russia is a completely different story. The question is, what can Russia do to get into solar and wind? The market is the most powerful lever here. Russia could be forced into a reassessment of its energy policy if there is a global price for carbon or carbon-bordered adjustment tariffs. Russia is averse to renewable-energy trends even if there is no carbon price.
There’s another petrostate that recently took a different course. That’s Saudi Arabia. Despite its huge oil reserves, Saudi Arabia is hedging its bets by launching one of the world’s biggest solar programs. The Saudis have done the math. They know that the countries that don’t embrace a clean-energy future are going to lose out.
You were inspired by your daughter to write the book. Is it enough for her to read?
As a father, I can assure you Mary will not be satisfied by the book, and for very good reason: it’s because we’ve got a long way to go. This action plan has ten goals. Each of these objectives is supported by a few key results. Each of these key results is crucial to reaching net zero. So the action that I’m looking for—that Mary’s looking for, that we want the world to look for—is to measure our success based on these key results.
We’re going to be tracking those at SpeedandScale.com. I invite you to join us on this crusade because this is humanity’s greatest challenge, and we are quickly running out of time. We need to activate leaders from all walks of life to move others to act before it’s too late. That means we need the leader in us all, within ourselves.
Thinking ahead with a multidecade time frame allows you to take moonshots, to be very ambitious ….Looking to 2030, we aim to run everything carbon free, 24/7. That means that all queries on Google, every Gmail sent, and every transaction on Google Cloud will be carbon-free. We don’t fully know how to get there. We need more innovation. We also require more project financing.
Sundar Pichai is chief executive officer at Alphabet
Here’s one thing I’ve learned, over my career, from Andy Grove—when teams set truly audacious goals, with a plan to meet them, the results can surpass all expectations. We have an action program, and we must get to net zero. We’re going to go for the gigatons. Six of our ten objectives directly cut or remove carbon emissions: those are how we electrify transportation, decarbonize the grid, feed ten billion people, protect our forests and our oceans, clean up concrete and steel, and remove the stubborn carbon that’s left in the atmosphere.
There are four accelerators that can help us get the job done, as we need to do this in a short time. We need to put in place the right policies, make movements happen, innovate like crazy, invest like our lives depend on it, because they do. What sets our plans apart is that this has been built on Objectives and Key Results, or OKRs, Andy Grove’s proven goal-setting system. Each of these ten objectives are supported by a handful measurable key outcomes so that we can show how we intend to achieve them.
My beloved husband Steve [Jobs]I took the time to reflect on his legacy and his ripple effect, and how a life can have lasting significance. This has also resided within me. What can I do with my life on this planet that is purposeful for me and others? ….Here is a big lesson we learned: you have to address everything at the same time.
Laurene Powell Jobs founder, Emerson Collective
What was it like to turn your plans into a book.
We began with the science—the bewildering array of reports—and said, “We want to be grounded in that and reach out to leaders in the field.” We conducted over 100 interviews and gathered 1,000 different data points, which we verified. There’s 500 research footnotes in the back of the book. We came to the conclusion that we didn’t need another book on climate itself, and we didn’t need to inspire people for individual actions; that’s really expected. We aimed the book at each individual’s leader. That’s the part of us that can move others, because we urgently need action now.
This is the crucial decade. So with interviews and with research, we said, “Let’s apply a proven framework for achieving audacious goals: the Objectives and Key Results. And rather than let the case rest with a precise but dry recital of what must be done, let’s enliven the book with stories from entrepreneurs, from activists, from youth, from policy makers—both their struggles and their successes.”
What are the top priorities in Glasgow? [COP26]I would love to see the Paris Dream become a reality. A global price on carbon emissions is essential for decarbonizing entire economies as well as fighting deforestation.
Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2010–16)
I admit, I cheated a bit. I’m an engineer and I have a hard time with words. The words of Mary Barra, John Kerry, Jeff Bezos, and Mary Barra make up nearly half of the book. I think those stories are what’s memorable, and they make this all-important agenda come to life. My dream is that we’ll come out into the world right at the time of COP26, and we can use this as a framework to judge how far the nations have gone in their commitments and then, importantly, hold them to these actions.
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