7 leaders share what's needed now for climate action ahead of COP27

View of a COP27 sign on the road leading to the conference area in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh town as the city prepares to host the COP27 summit next month, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt October 20, 2022. REUTERS/Sayed Sheasha
Ahead of the COP27, leaders in government, business, and civil society weigh in on the commitments they’d like to see move forward as well as and the solutions that are often overlooked.
Image: REUTERS/Sayed Sheasha
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  • Ahead of the COP27 global climate summit, this compilation episode collects interview excerpts from a range of leaders in government, business, and civil society about what leaders must put first right now for climate action

Egypt's COP27 climate summit is nearly here, bringing together delegates from around the world all to negotiate global goals for tackling the biggest challenge of our time: climate change.

Interviews from a range of leaders in government, business and civil society give us a glimpse of what's possible, what they hope will move forward at COP and beyond, and the lessons learned that can speed our way towards meaningful change. Excerpts from those conversations are below.

This transcript, generated from speech recognition technology, has been edited for web readers, condensed for clarity, and may differ slightly from the audio.

1. Sharpen your focus, set your intention

Ahead of COP27, Rania Al-Mashat, Egypt's Minister for International Cooperation, shares what leaders should prioritize. Photo taken at September's Sustainable Development Impact Meeting.
Ahead of COP27, Rania Al-Mashat, Egypt's Minister for International Cooperation, shares what leaders should prioritize. Photo taken at September's Sustainable Development Impact Meeting.
Image: World Economic Forum/Jeffery Jones

Rania Al-Mashat is Egypt's Minister of International Cooperation. She talked to Meet The Leader this September during the United Nations General Assembly Week in the World Economic Forum's New York Offices. She stressed the need for action - but also focus.

Rania Al-Mashat, Egypt's Minister of International Cooperation: This COP is a COP for implementation. And when we look at what happened in Glasgow (COP26), there were very important outcomes. We saw the private sector coming in making pledges. We saw philanthropists making commitments. What we want to see at COP27 is a continuation of that, but moving pledges into implementation. And we're trying to focus on how we can see projects in different countries materialize.

There's so much for all of us to do. There's so much, when it comes to innovative ideas, of how we work together, of how we can improve the work, how we can contribute to the global goals.

This is going to continue. This is COP 27. There'll be COP28 and 29, and 30 and onwards. So there's always going to be an element of negotiations and accounting and this and that. But at the same time, there's a lot of scope for all stakeholders to engage practically on the ground with respect to projects that affect people. For example, adaptation projects may not need big numbers in terms of financing compared to the renewable and the mitigation projects, but the number of beneficiaries and the impact that you have from each dollar spent on adaptation is quite huge. So there's a multiplier effect that we need to focus on. We need to tell the story over and over and we need to replicate successful examples.

There's a multiplier effect that we need to focus on.

—Rania Al-Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation of Government of Egypt

Meet The Leader also asked her how she personally stays on track when working on long term goals like climate action. Here's what she said:

Rania Al-Mashat: I always set my intention. The very first lesson in leadership is setting your intention. I think that is important in any job and in any work. I've carried them very dearly, setting the intention, being authentic and being present in every moment.

2. Remember: Change is possible

Kristian Teleki is the Director of the Friends of Ocean Action at the World Economic Forum. At May's Annual Meeting, he shared the solutions that could make a dramatic difference, not just for emissions, but also for the ocean. These examples are a key reminder that change is possible if we invest in solutions that could make a real difference.

Kristian Teleki, Director, Friends of Ocean Action. There are five solutions that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in order to get us to the 1.5 degree target those five solutions are: reducing emissions from maritime transport; nature-based solutions; shifting diets to eat more low carbon-intensive food from the ocean; offshore wind (or offshore renewable energy); and indeed storing carbon in the seabed.

So there's a number of easy solutions that can get us there. And if you take offshore, renewable energy, as one of those, that alone is like taking 1 billion cars off the road a year. There is an enormous amount that can be done, but we just need to focus on some of these solutions in order to get us there.

There is an enormous amount that can be done.

—Kristian Teleki, Director, Friends of Ocean Action

3. Engage with communities - and women

Kahea Pacheco, co-executive director, Women's Earth Alliance, explained to Meet The Leader that leaders at COP27 and beyond must engage with different communities - especially women - to make change happen.
Kahea Pacheco, co-executive director, Women's Earth Alliance, explained to Meet The Leader that leaders at COP27 and beyond must engage with different communities - especially women - to make change happen.
Image: World Economic Forum/Ciaran McCrickard

Kahea Pacheco is the co-executive director of the Women's Earth Alliance, a global initiative that empowers women leaders to protect the Earth. It's a group that helps drive home how women, particularly indigenous women and women of colour, can be catalysts for positive environmental change. She explained to Agenda editor Julie Masiga at May's Annual Meeting how women are more vulnerable to climate change impacts and why leaders should think harder about how they can engage with communities to make change.

Kahea Pacheco, co-executive director of the Women's Earth Alliance. You know, if we look at something like climate-induced disasters, women are 80% of all climate refugees around the world. They are 14 times more likely to die in a climate-related event than anyone else. And this is because women are often those who are tasked with caring for children, with caring for elders. They're often last to be rescued.

As water systems become compromised, they have a harder time collecting water for their families. They are often tasked with finding food and providing energy for cooking and all of those things become worse and become harder to do when dealing with climate impacts and when dealing with environmental justice.

In addition to that, it's not just climate change. It's climate-inducing activities and climate-inducing industries that impact women more deeply I think than a lot of other communities. If we look at communities, for example, in the United States that are in and around extractive industry sites - and in many cases, those sites are intentionally placed in, in communities of color - women in those communities often hold a cumulative body burden of the toxins and pollutants that exist in their surrounding environment. So if there are chemicals in the soil, in the water which we all know there are, when we have these kind of industries. Those chemicals get into the food systems and that gets into women's bodies.

And we're seeing, especially in indigenous communities, women are finding that they are passing things like PCBs onto their children through their breast milk. Women are uniquely positioned as those who are experiencing the deepest impacts of climate change. But because of that, we believe that they are often best positioned with solutions because they're the ones that have to collect water. They're the ones that are caring for children and collecting food. They will know what they need. They will know what their communities need and what will work for them. And so that's why we have to partner with communities actually not just bring them to the table. Make sure that they are the first and primary voice at the table. We have to start valuing, community-based knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge on the same playing field as we value Western knowledge and science. Because I think there's a power dynamic there. And I think that not valuing it equally is one of the reasons that entities don't think to partner with communities first and foremost.

We have to stop doing things in half measures. I think we are relying on things like net zero, when we have to come to terms with the fact that net zero isn't the goal. Net zero is a benchmark to a goal of decarbonizing. Because we want to move way past that. We have to get beyond net zero and to get to actual zero.

4. Focus on solutions that scale

COP27: Ezgi Barcenas, Chief Sustainability Officer, AB InBev
Ezgi Barcenas, Chief Sustainability Officer, AB InBev, shared that scalable innovation is a key focus of leaders looking to turn the corner on climate action, ahead of COP27.
Image: AB InBev

Ezgi Barcenas is the Chief Sustainability Officer at AB InBev, the beverage giant behind big brands like Budweiser. This company is finding new ways to leverage blockchain, FinTech, satellite technologies, and more, all to empower small holder farmers and entrepreneurs while helping the climate. She talked to Meet the Leader about the priority that she thinks leaders should have top of mind to turn the corner on climate action: scalable innovation.

Ezgi Barcenas, Chief Sustainability Officer, AB InBev: This is really a big one. Because even when you're looking to set new public commitments or a net-zero ambition or vision, there's certain pathways that you plan out for yourself, and there is a piece of your supply chain or operations that you know how to tackle. And then there's other areas where you don't know the full answer, right? You don't know exactly how to get there, but you know the importance of innovation and identifying new partnerships, new supply chain partners that are going to come in and help you tackle. So, scalable innovation is really a big one.

And for us, about four years ago, we created a programme called 100+ Accelerator that has accelerated 70 start-ups around the world in 20-plus countries. In its third year right now, we're wrapping up the third cohort, we've also invited Unilever, Coca-Cola, and Colgate-Palmolive to join us, as four iconic companies to look at some of these sustainable innovation solutions that are out there that are going to come in and pilot their products in our operations or in our supply chains. And once, at the end of that pilot, you find the results that can be scaled, now there's your answer to the future, to that unknown that you're trying to close the gaps on.

Once you find the results that can be scaled, now there's your answer to the future, to that unknown that you're trying to close the gaps on.

—Ezgi Barcenas, Chief Sustainability Officer, AB InBev

5. Create a flywheel for change

Ahead of Cop27, Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens Corporation (Far left) explained what she'd like to see at the climate summit. Here Humpton sits at a panel with U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell at October's Urban Transformation Summit.
Ahead of Cop27, Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens Corporation (Far left) explained what she'd like to see at the climate summit. Here Humpton sits at a panel with U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell at October's Urban Transformation Summit.

Barbara Humpton is the CEO of Siemens Corporation, a company creating infrastructure projects like autonomous trains and smart buildings that make the most of data to ensure both efficiency and sustainability. Meet The Leader caught up with her in Detroit at the World Economic Forum's Urban Transformation Summit. Here's what she had to say about what she hopes moves forward at COP27 and from the global leadership community.

Barbara Humpton, CEO, Siemens: What I'm expecting to see, and this is I heard from Secretary Kerry at our recent event, is the tremendous focus on action, which has already begun now embracing the business community. One of the things Secretary Kerry has suggested, and we'll, I'll see, you know, exactly how this fits into the overall agenda, is the idea of businesses coming forward and saying, 'Here are projects we have underway. Here are ideas that we are implementing.' Almost mini playbooks that others can learn from, take away and build on. It's that kind of creating the flywheel of action where, the early adopters can stand up and be leaders for others.

Now we heard that same request right here and in our working session today. Congresswoman Dingle said [At the Urban Transformation Summit], I wanna see the business community standing up and really taking charge and taking a leadership role now. And I believe we have to. I believe we have to, I don't think this is a moment when we should be waiting for governments to tell us what needs to be done. I think all of us as citizens and citizens who are business people should be active.

I don't think this is a moment when we should be waiting for governments to tell us what needs to be done.

—Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens Corporation

6. Seek commitments for carbon mitigation and heat mitigation

Jane Gilbert is the Chief Heat Officer of Florida's Miami-Dade County. She's charged with coordinating and speeding action to address the increasing health and economic risks associated with extreme heat. Here's what she hopes pushes forward at COP and beyond.

Jane Gilbert: I want to see commitment in two areas that will bring us both carbon mitigation and heat mitigation. And those are tree planting in cities in urban landscapes that need it and investment in that kind of green, certainly carbon sequestration broadly but really where people need it the most. And when we talk about Global South and we talk about the number of organic or informal settlements, we need to think about it very differently. But these can be oven cookers, they can be very dangerous. And so we need to really think about how we are designing housing solutions for the, those living most on the edge.

7. Know your 'Why' - and your 'How'

Frans van Houten is the former CEO of Philips, a health technology company. He talked to Meet the Leader at the annual meeting in May about what leaders often overlook and need to be talking about more.

Frans van Houten, former CEO of Philips: Everybody talks about, for example, sustainability or improving healthcare and we know why that is important - because of the world and our future generations. What people do not talk about enough is how we are going to make a change. The why is understood, but the action agenda to make a real impact really fast, whether it is on health or the planet that is not strong enough.

For people to translate, insight into action, they really need to see good examples of others, that motivate them. If you think about climate action, we see now a lot of people have adopted science-based targets one and a half degrees. They are committed, but it doesn't mean they know how to do it yet. You can plant trees, you can buy green electricity. That's not enough. You need to do more.

Then we talk about scope three, your suppliers, your customers: the whole value chain now becomes harder right. We need deep insights in how you make transformation and involve others. And for example, adopt circularity so that we use less Virgin materials from mother earth. It takes time. That takes a lot of insights and experience. For that, we need to share best practices and inspire people to get on the learning curve.

Meet the Leader: And what will happen if people don't take action?

Frans van Houten: Then together, we will not make our objectives and the world will be a very, very difficult place, with floods and high temperature food crisis. So we really need to speed up.

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