How to achieve an inclusive path to net zero - 5 Young Global Leaders explain

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Young Global Leaders around the world are doing their part for the climate.

Young Global Leaders around the world are doing their part for the climate. Image: Young Global Leaders/ Greeland Impact Expedition

Kulé Galma
Community Engagement Specialist, Young Global Leaders, World Economic Forum
This article is part of: Forum COP26 Live
  • To ensure equitable and inclusive climate action, all stakeholders need a seat at the table.
  • The ongoing pandemic has increased pressure on global leaders to deliver value with societal and environmental impact - different stakeholder groups are pushing for increased accountability.
  • Young Global Leaders around the world are doing their part for the climate.

2015 was a turning point for the world, as it embarked on a collective and ambitious journey to combat climate change. For the first time in history, leaders came together to map out a unified vision for the environment, but to date, turning this vision into reality has been a challenge. We have learned that achieving inclusive climate action is not straightforward.

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With such far reaching impact, the solution for climate change requires all hands-on deck, with all stakeholders working together to drive change. Recognizing this, Young Global Leaders (YGLs) are partnering and collaborating across industries and borders to drive public-private cooperation in the global public interest. YGLs are also making strides in their fields to lead climate action - putting inclusivity first.

While no blueprint exists, these leaders are adamant about ensuring that the voices of the vulnerable and underrepresented are heard and that the benefits and burdens of climate action are equally distributed.


To fully realize our target of net zero by 2050, key sectors should be leveraged as pathways to equitable climate action. For example, funding for large-scaled investments to offset carbon emissions could be mobilized via the financial services sector or the technology sector could be rallied to support the development of data collection mechanisms to enable us to understand the gaps and opportunities of inclusive climate action.

Such a coordinated approached requires global leaders to take bold decisions – putting the needs of the climate change fight before their own interests. A recent report, written in partnership with Accenture and the Global Shaper Community, argues that responsible leaders champion inclusion both inside and outside their organizations and uphold the rights of all stakeholders. All eyes are on leaders to deliver on their promises.

Everyone is holding business to a higher standard

The health, economic and social crises of recent times have raised people’s expectations about the role of business in solving global problems. However, according to recent Accenture research, progress on most of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals has stalled or been eroded.

Companies are being scrutinized like never before. As we look to accelerate action towards climate change during COP26, some YGLs reflect on the importance of stakeholder inclusion in the fight for carbon neutrality and share their thoughts on how we can ensure inclusive action.

Everyone is affected by climate change

Jane Burston, Executive Director, Clean Air Fund

All stakeholders should be part of tackling climate change because everyone is affected – not least by harmful air pollution which almost everyone on the planet has to breathe daily.

Climate change and air pollution are two sides of the same coin. The causes of climate change are often the same as the causes of air pollution – two thirds of air pollution is from burning fossil fuels for power, transport and industry.

That means the solutions can also be the same: renewable energy, electric mobility, more walking and cycling. And where climate change can feel distant and intangible, dirty air and its health impacts are immediate and local, affecting marginalized people the most.

When we tackle air pollution, we can tackle climate change, save lives and fight inequality at the same time. It’s a no brainer.

Sustainability as business opportunity

Amit Mehra, Managing Director, Accenture UK

With over $2.5T of annual investment gap to reach the SDGs and a 3X increase in investment required by 2030 to get to Net Zero targets by 2050, Sustainability is not only a serious business responsibility, but also an important business opportunity.

While we don’t yet have all solutions in hand or in sight, the desirable results and outcomes will depend on three key imperatives: a) Collaboration across diverse stakeholders, including competitors, b) Combination of technology, data, and human ingenuity, and c) Change facilitated from the top.

Whether it’s making transparent disclosures of risks and the financial impact thereof, enabling the workforce and supply chain to speed-up transition to net zero, or providing trusted insights to back bold action by key decision-makers in their sustainability journey, COP26 presents the opportunity and responsibility to accelerate on all three imperatives.

We need to restore and protect natural habitats

Enric Sala, Explorer-in-Residence, National Geographic Society

To reach “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050 we need to reduce emissions to almost zero and safeguard half of our planet in its natural state, starting with protecting 30% by 2030 – because only intact natural ecosystems can absorb our excess carbon pollution from the air and the ocean. This affects everyone and everyone ought to be involved.

Those who suffer the most impact from our global crisis aren’t those who destroy nature and pollute our atmosphere at scale. For example, oil companies continue to be subsidized massively by governments to increase their already enormous profits, while poor people see their backyards polluted and die of respiratory diseases or heat waves.

We need to redirect hundreds of millions of dollars of those subsidies to protect and restore natural habitats that will provide protection from floods, wave action, and heatwaves – and slow down the warming of our planet.

Major global challenge requires genuine global cooperation

Unathi Kamlana, Commissioner, Financial Sector Conduct Authority (Aliko Dangote Fellow)

Over the last year, wildfires in South Africa resulted in over 2 million hectares of agricultural land being destroyed with significant losses of lives and property. In 2021, parts of the country also experienced severe flooding and water shortages in certain parts. Amongst the G20, South Africa has one of the largest carbon footprints. Record high temperatures are being recorded globally as such water variability will occur more frequently. This is neither a rich nor poor country or citizen problem. It is everyone’s problem.

The solution has to begin with all of us acknowledging that we have a problem, and that our actions do not only affect us, but everyone around and far beyond us. A major global challenge like this requires genuine global cooperation and agreement between all nations. The youth are already taking the lead, and the rest of society needs to support them by committing to achieving a greener world.

We are all stakeholders in preventing disaster

Matthew Tilleard, Managing Partner, CrossBoundary

Net zero should be the ultimate unifier. There is nobody on the planet who is not a stakeholder in preventing catastrophic climate change.

But we are not just all stakeholders in preventing disaster. We are also all potential participants in using this challenge as a catalyst to create a more prosperous, just and sustainable society.

Our work in distributed renewables in Africa is a good example. The decreasing cost of solar and storage provides Africa with a potential clean path to growth. But beyond decarbonization, distributed solar and storage also increase electricity reliability and decrease electricity costs removing a major obstacle to growth. Combining these technologies into mini-grids also provides a new, faster and cheaper means of bringing power to many of the 600M people living without power on the continent.

So we are all stakeholders in preventing disaster. That’s given. But we are also all potential participants and beneficiaries in using this as an opportunity to shape a better world.

Solargrids in Nigeria. Image: CrossBoundary.
Everyone is holding business to a higher standardEveryone is affected by climate changeSustainability as business opportunity We need to restore and protect natural habitatsMajor global challenge requires genuine global cooperationWe are all stakeholders in preventing disaster

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