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Here are some ways to convince CEOs that they will support climate action by the government at the expense of their profits
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Here are some ways to convince CEOs that they will support climate action by the government at the expense of their profits

A building carrying the Unilever logo


There is now consensus that limiting global temperatures should be done. 1.5℃ requires fundamental changes in sectorsEnergy, food, transport and finance to more environmentally-friendly production and consumption. This could be, for instance, a shift towards a 100% renewable energy system or the replacement of fossil fuel-powered vehicles by electric ones.

It is crucial that the government takes action to coordinate and support this transition. But one key barrierThe lobbying efforts of powerful corporate interests have been successful. They are concerned that government intervention could increase their costs or even eliminate their industries. The millions spentThe oil and gas industry lobbying against climate policies is a prime example.

But as the world heats, growing numbersChief Executive Officers are pushingfor more ambitious policy interventions in order to address the climate emergency. To find out why the corporate lobby might be changingOur analysis focused on the role of business in the UN development process. sustainable development goalsBetween 2012 and 2015.

A building carrying the Unilever logo
Multinational companies such as Unilever were examined for their strategies to climate-related government intervention.

Several high-profile multinational companies were involved in developing the goals, including Unilever, Nestlé, GSK, Aviva and Pearson. Many argued strongly for the specific goals to be achieved and the role of governments in achieving them.

We reviewed 25 documents communicating corporations’ views, and observed nine meetings between business leaders and policymakers. We also conducted 57 interviews, with 45 CEOs or senior executives from the 30 companies involved in this project.

We found that many companies are calling for bold government intervention to combat climate changes through a combination public investment, financial incentives, and regulation.

Many were calling for governments, for example, to introduce carbon taxation(To tax greenhouse gas emissions to make low-carbon alternatives more affordable) and to work towards banning certain substances high-carbon activities(e.g. putting a deadline on when petrol cars or boilers can be no longer sold). Many companies also demanded that government subsidies for fossil fuels be ended and that they be given to renewable energy projects.

Corporate goals

Conventional wisdom suggests that corporate lobbying tends toward weakening government intervention. Leaders we spoke to argued that the world desperately needed sustainability transitions across multiple sectors and justified their lobbying for more government intervention.

Many leaders felt they had a duty to help facilitate these transitions. This meant calling for more ambitious intervention by governments, even if it meant higher costs in the short-term.

Others argued that businesses can only survive in a stable and thriving society. In some cases, public investment, regulation, and incentives could help grow markets. This would encourage companies to combine environmental responsibility with commercial incentives.

Combined heat and power solar installation on a barn roof
Government subsidies encourage renewable energy initiatives like roof solar panels.
Stefan Thiesen

Renewable energy subsidies, for example, helped to grow the market. solar panelsroofs; regulations prohibiting the sale petrol carsIncreasing the market for electric vehicles; taxing carbonThis could increase the demand for low-carbon options such as LED lighting.

Life experiences

So why don’t all companies devote time and energy to lobbying for more government action? When asked about this, many CEOs reacted differently to being asked. They cited personal experiences as the reason for their lobbying.

These included being personally affected by climate-related suffering, being the target of NGO campaigns, and being challenged by others to engage: from other CEOs and directors, senior politicians, public intellectuals, to their children.

These experiences were often linked to participation in climate networks such as the UN Global Compact – a non-binding pledge encouraging businesses to commit to sustainability. We call this action in response to being challenged by others “the echo of conscience”.

Our research suggests ways to encourage more CEOs to push governments to take radical climate action, as the public holds corporate leaders to higher standards. People involved in working towards sustainability transitions must enlist CEOs to positively influence one another’s decisions through sustainability-focused CEO networks.

We must create opportunities for CEOs to have first-hand experiences of the problems caused by their industry’s impact on climate – as well as opportunities for CEOs to be personally challenged by respected figures and people they care about, especially their children. Finally, we need to encourage corporate HR departments to focus on these elements in leadership selection and development, to make sure those who lead the world’s companies are also leading the world towards a brighter future.


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