Ben Miles Mary Stewart
Nov 22, 2022

Why COP27 leaves us numb

Climate consultancy Energetics and RGA on why legacy brands need to buck up to power the transformation to a 1.5°C world.


Global leaders gathered over the past two weeks in Egypt for COP27 to unpack how, exactly, they’re going to meet the climate goals they set last year in Glasgow. Humanity is on a “highway to climate hell”, the UN chief Secretary-General António Guterres warned state leaders, diplomats and officials, saying the fight for a liveable planet will be won or lost this decade.

Governments weren’t the only bodies present at the global climate change summit, there was also a B camp where brands, businesses, academics and artists were invited to contribute.

As brands race to claim net zero and to promote their own climate credentials, all eyes are on what they're actually doing in pursuing a path for a safer future. And whether that action instigates real long-term change. The situation is now surely too critical for any brand to engage in greenwashing or attempt to profit from our path on “the highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”

I’m not writing this to call out what brands aren’t doing. Right now, we should all be asking what it means to use our collective creativity for good, as the climate emergency accelerates.

Corporations have the power to create real change. Not governments or nations, but dynamic businesses of all shapes and sizes. Attraction and retention remain one of the most critical talking points of today across many industries in Australia, but this actually becomes an opportunity to create a powerful value exchange between both employee and employer. Employers and customers align their own values with an organisation’s. I see it as a world where these climate conversations happening at work and at home are now marching forward together on the right side of change.

Another stark ramification of a fragile global economy is that we're going to see corporations across the globe take a more defensive strategy. It’s understandable, but corporations must remember to look up and aim for positive impact. Obsessing over what’s immediately in front of us will only dilute our efforts in preventing a climate catastrophe. And if we continue the way we are, let’s be honest, there won't be business models to obsess over at all.

Sadly, the reality is that among companies and brands, this short-termism is still king. We must get behind leaders that are willing to adapt their whole business model by taking an innovative long-term view on what's better for business, brand and the planet.

RGA partnered with climate and energy consultancy Energetics on a new brand vision - to power the transformation to a 1.5°C world. 1.5°C. The terrifying marker for an irreversible climate and social disruption.
Mary Stewart, CEO of Energetics, was at COP27. We welcomed the positive news of the new loss and damage fund for nations impacted by the changing climate, which is particularly important for our Pacific island neighbours.

We were disappointed by the lack of ambition to limit warming to 1.5oC, although we drew encouragement from the dozens of nations which fought for a statement on the phasing out of fossil fuels.

We were relieved to see formal climate talks resume between the US and China, the largest greenhouse gas emitters.

We were particularly pleased to see the UN Expert Group on Net Zero announce 10 recommendations for business to step up net zero ambition, ensure transparency and prevent greenwashing - you cannot claim to be working towards net zero if you continue to invest in new fossil fuels, buy cheap carbon credits or engage in deforestation. They are recommendations for now, but they’re not going away.

And Australia is back. Our government has ambition and was a key party in negotiating the final agreement.

So to all business leaders, let's be brave enough to build and evolve inspiring and meaningful brands designed to endure, what is now unquestionably, a vulnerable future. And a future of hope. Where customers are inspired by the positive impact and actions you take, and your employees are proud to work for an organisation that is putting collective change first. This intentionally design forward-focused strategy becomes a cycle where everyone wins. While change comes from the top down, revolutions start from the bottom up.

Let's unite for a 1.5-degree world and show our next generation that legacy brands can be innovative and incite real change too.

Ben Miles is VP, executive creative director, brand design & consulting at RGA; and Dr Mary Stewart is CEO of Energetics. 

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