Tuck Side Event in Doha examines the role of global corporations in moving the climate needle

Tuck Panel

A highlight for the Tuck COP18 team was the opportunity to host a Side Event at the conference. Hosts of other side events include various UN organizations such as FAO, UNFCCC and UNEP, NGOs such as Greenpeace, and various countries (Switzerland, Vietnam etc.), so Tuck is in elite company. As Prof. Sundaram noted, Tuck was the only B-School to send a delegation, let alone host a Side Event. The topic of our Side Event was “The role of global corporations in moving the climate needle”

The Tuck panel was moderated by Prof. Anant Sundaram and comprised:

  1. Giles Dickson – VP Environmental Policies & Global Advocacy at Alstom (a large conglomerate based in France),
  2. David Hone – Senior Climate Adviser for Shell,
  3. Tim Juliani – Director of Corporate Engagement for C2ES (formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change – a Washington DC based nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to advance strong policy and action to address climate change)

Prof. Sundaram started the panel off by giving an overview of the Tuck School (with a beautiful picture of Tuck on a serene winter evening – quite different from Doha at any time of the year!). He reiterated Tuck’s deep commitment to sustainability – from teaching the first elective course on the links between business and climate change, to the work done by the Center for Business and Society, to bringing together Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) of companies with a view to creating links between students, NGOs, and companies.

Next, Prof. Sundaram outlined the basic problem – who burns much of this Carbon that is entering the atmosphere? To a great extent, corporations do. Does that make them evil? Not really – they do this because they offer goods and services that consumers want. So, corporations are clearly the cause of the issue, but they are also going to be the solution. As we learnt in the Tuck elective course “Business and Climate Change”, corporations have a huge contingent liability if a price on carbon is established – at $30/tonne, the largest 500 companies would have to fork over to $100B to society – so, they want to get ahead of that problem.

Next, Tim Juliani gave an overview of his organization, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions or C2ES. Interestingly, C2ES has a business/advisory council that comprises companies that have a combined $2T in revenues (yes, that’s Trillion with  a T!!) and 3.5M employees. One of the big problems that Tim sees is that 66% of companies talk about Climate Change risks in general risk management terms, even though the scope of the problem exceeds the capabilities of those frameworks to address. Given the lack of legislative action, we resort to voluntary actions such as climate leadership awards, Green House Gas (GHG) management, supply chain reorganization etc. as ways to incentivize corporate action.

Shell needed no introduction, so David Hone jumped right into what businesses can do – he outlined four areas – providing political room for government to act, taking a seat at the table, engaging in constructive dialogue, and finally, presenting the issues openly and transparently. He outlined specific examples of each of these – for instance, in the area of providing political room for governments, he called out the Carbon Price Communique (read more here), which Shell has signed, which makes the case for setting a price on carbon emissions as one of the main building blocks of an effective and ambitious climate change policy framework.

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Giles Dickson from Alstom felt that what Alstom sells today is not necessarily going to deliver tomorrow’s low carbon economy. Instead, what we really need are new advances such as offshore wind turbines, offshore substations, wave energy converters (he showed a picture – here – of a doughnut in the ocean – very cool!) etc., and these are in the works at Alstom. As he rightly noted, this problem is not just about making clean technology more affordable; this is also about making dirty technologies cleaner. Back in 1960, the average efficiency of a coal plant was 30% – in 2020, it will be well over 50%. A few years ago, gas fired plant efficiency was 50% – now, it is over 60%. So, how much CO2 was not emitted by Alstom customers as a result of adopting newer Alstom technology? Between 2002 and 2009, 175 M tonnes of CO2 was not emitted – so, this is a real contribution that a corporation is making to solve the problem.

The panelists remarks was followed by a lively Q&A that covered topics as wide ranging as how public-private partnerships can do more, individual carbon budgets, and the business cases for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

As I sat on the bus heading back to the hotel, I reflected back on a great panel that provided a variety of perspectives on how future business leaders coming out of schools such as Tuck can play an active role in addressing what could well be the defining issue of our time – climate change.

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