A Boost in Realistic Hope: Optimism in the Age of COVID-19

Published by Katell Le Goulven & Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society on 12 Oct 2020

Laurence Tubiana, European Climate Foundation CEO, joined us to discuss the benefit of creating positive loops of action on climate change in politics, business and society

I got a boost of realistic hope right when I needed it most. Headline news today is dominated by gloomy reports on the health crisis, global economic outlook and geopolitical instability. The world needs inspiration. We have an opportunity to build back better from the global pandemic. This was the theme of my recent conversation with Laurence Tubiana, a tireless advocate and architect of change.  

Laurence has inspired me since we first met in 1995. We met at SupAgro Montpellier, a public higher education and research institution devoted to agriculture, food and the environment. I looked up to her for her ability to push agendas forward with brave and passionate action. I have shared my career doubts and changes with her and appreciate her perspective. Conversations with Laurence are always fun and insightful, as she has accomplished so much. This conversation was no different.

Organized by our INSEAD Hoffmann Institute and ChangeNOW, the discussion focused on how to be a changemaker and address the climate emergency in these difficult times. Laurence took us on a journey back to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change and her experiences designing a historical international agreement. Key ingredients of success in Paris depended on framing and process. The agreement was built on clear expectations of climate neutrality by the second half of the century and raising ambition over time to get there. The process to achieve that goal is collaborative and each nation contributes what they can.  

The Paris Agreement is also different because it places climate change at the heart of the development agenda, rather than pushing it to the side as an environmental issue. Business and civil society were invited to Paris and were integral to success there as well. Five years later, we still have a long way to go but Laurence sees progress. The Paris Agreement framing has prevailed. Climate is increasingly seen as an economy-wide problem, and a growing number of companies, cities, regions and citizen movements are taking action. Zero emissions by 2050 is swiftly becoming the benchmark goal.

Now is the moment to point global growth towards this goal. When Laurence reflects on the effect COVID-19 has had on the climate agenda, she says her worse fears did not materialize. COVID-19 only slowed progress a little, and the conversation has shifted to a green recovery. It is essential that we accelerate this shift with clean and green growth in Europe and economic climate diplomacy abroad.

Laurence went on to outline positive shifts strengthened by the pandemic. For example, recent commitment by China to be carbon neutral by 2060 increases Europe-China alignment. This opens great potential for a green economic powerhouse that endures regardless of elections in the US or elsewhere.  

Laurence’s optimism also comes from her recent experience with the French Citizens’ Convention on Climate – an initiative born from the aftermath of the Gilets Jaunes, or Yellow Vest, protests. The Yellow Vests protested against the carbon tax and engaged citizens in voluntary discussions that marry climate action with social justice. Working with this group was an eye-opening experience on the value and power of deliberative democracy, with Laurence remarking that “citizen agency is real, effective and powerful if given the space to flourish”.

Complementing government and citizen actions, businesses are increasingly stepping up amid increasing pressure by investors. Even though she tried without success to bring the private sector along by developing sectoral agreements, Laurence sees more recent businesses commitments around different stakeholder coalitions as the way forward. The growing number of companies announcing carbon neutrality targets with laid out plans and strategies to get there matter the most. Real action is a big change from where we were just a few years ago.

Action by all can produce tension between individual change and change from governments and corporations. On this point, Laurence is clear. Change does not come from a single place or single actor. Change can advance on many fronts at the same time to create virtuous loops. On issues of climate change and social justice, each of us can contribute to change by taking responsibility and taking action.

Today, Laurence remains most hopeful about one thing – climate change is no longer an isolated topic. It is linked to critical issues like biodiversity, social justice and public health. It connects us all like the air we breathe and water we drink, and people are waking up to this fact. So while we may have failed in the past, through a dedicated effort now, we may very well reach our social, environmental and economic goals. We just need changemakers to lead the way.

After hearing this discussion, I have a realistic hope that more people will step up. Will you?

Many thanks to Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation, and Kevin Tayebaly, Founder of ChangeNOW, for joining this discussion. We also thank everyone who contributed to the robust conversation.

Category:  Knowledge

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