In an Era of Global Emergencies, a Climate Call to Arms


The Covid-19 global pandemic has upended the way the world lives, works, and orders its priorities. More than six months into the pandemic, however, we in the United States are being reminded that climate change hasn’t gone away but is actually accelerating.

The Covid-19 global pandemic has upended the way the world lives, works, and orders its priorities. More than six months into the pandemic, however, we in the United States are being reminded that climate change hasn’t gone away but is actually accelerating.

For every piece of news this summer about rising pandemic anxiety and the abandonment of urban density, the fall has now brought renewed attention to a global emergency that was already undergoing rapid compression in the last few decades. From “megafires” and an historically active hurricane season, to human consequences like climate migration, these are changes we can see, feel and literally breathe.

This year’s Climate Week in New York has begun, quite naturally, with that very premise: how to move forward in an era where the risk of global emergency—and even the intersection of multiple emergencies—has taken on new contour. From our perspective at Societe Generale, with a steadfast commitment to sustainable solutions across the globe, this is a crucial time to evaluate the level of urgency in the US by contrast to the rest of the world, where commitments to solving ESG issues continue to outpace the efforts we see stateside. Changes in perspective are desperately needed.

First, it’s about owning the issue: addressing climate change is as much about reversing the greenhouse gas narrative as it is about meeting the energy and economic needs of a human population that will grow by 25-30% within a generation.   Ignoring either side of this equation won’t work, and in the end corporate America will be a crucial input into how the math resolves itself.  The US has seen climate awareness produce a wider range of extremes than its European counterparts, from genuine global leaders in carbon reduction, to much more incremental (and often unwilling) steps at an industry level.  This scattershot has not been effective, and the US now risks finding itself beholden to a mix of priorities and taxonomies not designed to reflect the shape of the US market.

Instead corporate America should—as they already have done on other matters in 2020—become arbiters, if not also influencers, in the climate debate.   The time for ideological debate has passed; climate change is not about moralizing the past, it is now about rewarding genuine innovation.  American corporates and investors must take the lead in investing in climate science and technology transformation, burnish their evidence, and inspire a coordinated approach to climate response.   Fortunately, just last week we've seen the Business Roundtable industry group prioritize certain aspects of climate change mitigation, which is encouraging. But more is required.

Second, market participants must use this moment to reconsider the interrelationships between climate and other ESG factors, particularly while ESG investments have continued to outperform during 2020’s resurgent market volatility. On social matters, for instance, the US is much more of an active test case, because the deeper correlation between social inequities, physical geography and climate outcomes continues to be proven here more than elsewhere.

Given the protests for racial justice and cultural change that enveloped the country earlier this summer, now is the time to make clear that the ‘S’ and ‘G’ elements are coequal to, and indeed cannot be decoupled from, the ‘E’. To date, many ESG frameworks and products continue to struggle with these former elements while emphasizing the latter one – mostly because social and governance data and scoring have been harder to define, but also because communicating about these issues is difficult.   These are visceral, immediate, and highly emotional conversations that don’t lend themselves easily to abstract ruminations.   This is also precisely why they matter so much in ESG.  The US should take the lead and show the courage to put these issues more firmly on the table.

2020 Climate Week could not arrive at a more important time, as this year’s rapidly moving events have briefly (and understandably) taken climate off the top of the agenda. Millions of acres burning on one US coastline, and increasing tropical storm formations off the other, have served to remind us of the imperative. The scope of global emergencies going forward demands thoughtful collective action that goes beyond good PR or ticking a box for a better ESG rating or market acceptance. It’s time to take the next step.


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