Earth Day 2021 – Six key climate change voices; Christiana Figueres, Huw Van Steenis, Greta Thunberg and more

Happy Earth Day!  It feels like a pit stop on the Race To Zero – namely the global campaign to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 (at the latest) and create a recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs, and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth.  

With COP26 in Glasgow on the horizon it is heartening to see governments across the globe plotting out paths to zero emissions.

Yet at the same time many of the very same national governments are still subsidising and supporting the industries whose rocketing emissions have got us to this point. There is a huge challenge ahead of us if we are going to limit emissions to 1.5 degrees. There is a role for businesses, cities, regions, investors, and Higher Education Institutions to play pushing for faster, more aggressive cuts.

For this year’s Earth day I thought I would rewind a little to Hub Culture in Davos in 2020. Climate issues very much dominated the agenda and the spread of Covid-19 still lurked around the corner.

While Covid has been devastating, it has given the planet something of a breather. According to the IEA in  2020 demand for fossil fuels dropped significantly with oil plunging 8.6%, and coal dropping by 4%. Overall global energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 5.8%. Other surveys have emissions falling by as much as 7%.

The impact of this drop has underlined to politicians across the globe that cutting carbon emissions is possible.

At Davos in 2020 I heard a series of voices who expressed concern that COP26 – originally slated for November 2020 – was the last chance governments have to make critical cuts to carbon emissions and agreements on carbon trading systems in order to keep emissions to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial average temperatures

Among the key speakers was Christiana Figueres, Climate Leader, Founding Partner of Global Optimism and fellow podcaster! In July 2010, Christiana was appointed Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). During Christiana’s time there, she dedicated herself to rebuilding the global climate change negotiating process based on fairness, transparency and collaboration. This led to the 2015 Paris Agreement, which is widely recognized as a historical achievement.

Here’s what she had to say about the journey to that agreement and what she feels about COP26.

Another voice from that time was Aron Cramer, President and CEO of BSR. In this video he discusses the annual Davos letter from Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, the biggest asset management company in the world, in which he talks at length about sustainability. As Aron explains, there was a time when sustainability was the preserve of fringe investors, but not any more. #Sustainability is now squarely in the centre of decisions about how to allocate the biggest assets in the world. 

Interestingly BlackRock recently unveiled a $650 million fund to back startups who can come up with climate solutions.

On a similar topic here is Huw Van Steenis, the Chair of Sustainable Finance at UBS, talking about the importance of having good data for SDGs. Huw explains that data is foundational; without it your can’t risk manage, mobilise capital or hold people to account. He discusses the need to transition to a lower carbon economy, and that $100 trillion of capital could be required to make this happen. Data will enable us to see if we are on track.


It is important though that when discussing how industry and commerce might respond to climate change that we don’t lose focus on the actual issues the earth faces. Against a backdrop of bad news from melting ice caps through to Australian bushfires, at Davos 2020 Director General of the WWF, Marco Lambertini tried to find some positives. “Science has never been clearer, awareness has never been greater and we are beginning to see a lot of strong responses,” argues Marco. We are at a key point where people are realising that fixing the planet and stopping climate change is in our own interest.

It is easy to write Davos off as the place where billionaires go to meet other billionaires to talk about how to best squirrel away their cash. And consequently to ignore or decry it. Except that the billionaire cabals are only a small part of the story.

Davos has always been a place for big ideas and serious issues discussed not just by politicians and captains of business, but activists, pressure groups, NGOs, academics, UN agencies, and so many others. Extinction Rebellion showed up too. 

In 2020  young people were very much centre stage as Greta Thunberg was joined by activists from all over the world, Isabelle Axelsson (Sweden), Loukina Tille (Switzerland), Vanessa Nakate (Uganda), Greta Thunberg (Sweden) and Luisa Neubauer (Germany) to offer their perspective on climate change and to highlight the failure of the generations that have preceded them.


Finally here’s an example of what can be achieved when climate change concerns are placed at the heart of creative projects. At Davos 2020 I spoke to William McDonough of William McDonough + Partners, who delivered the vision behind The Icehouse (the building in which the interview took place) discusses the creation of the building, its unique features and its environmental credentials.