COP26 Thought for the Day #5

What is the difference that will make the difference?

Now that COP26 is well underway I wanted to bring in other voices and perspectives, Today I’d like you to meet Sally Gray. I asked Sally to say something about her work with COP26, as well as sharing her thought for the day.

Sally is a student on the Wise Goose advanced coaching course. She’s been committed to societal and organisational change for many years, particularly at the inter-section of people and sustainability.

Sally focuses on shifting ‘systems’ in large and complex organisations and on building more responsible organisations working at all levels – individual, group, organisation and societal – to enable transformational learning and change.

Currently a Director at EY (Ernst & Young – one of the ‘Big 4’ audit and consulting firms) specialising in Talent and Sustainable Finance, she also teaches Sustainable Finance at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). In addition to her work (and coaching), Sally is often found on the allotment with a reluctant nine-year old.

Sally and COP26

With my latest project I have been involved in the biggest system ‘shift’ of them all in some ways – I have been assembling and driving EY’s Sustainable Finance contribution to COP26. Our presence at COP26 has taken several forms including the development and mobilisation of the Green Horizon Summit, a collaboration between the City of London and the Green Finance Institute, supported by several strategic sponsors, including EY.

My focus has been developing insights to feed into the debate about the role of private finance in addressing climate change, including bringing together the likes of the CEO of Bank of America to discuss mobilising capital to emerging markets, CEOs from around Asia to discuss decarbonisation from an Asian perspective; and assembling a ‘youth’ panel to hear the concerns and questions from the generation who will carry the burden of climate change.

I have never seen the business community mobilise behind a COP in such a substantial way. The number of large Financial Services firms queuing up to call for change – both within themselves, from governments, regulators, and their customers – is incredible. I think we all have doubts if these aspirations and targets can be achieved. These NetZero targets and talk need to be backed up by clear and swift action.

My sense is – if we can’t use this moment to galvanise the start of significant change – we never will.

What we need is to listen deeply to each other and find our individual ways to take action –for ourselves, our organisations, our communities. Purpose is central to this change. What is our Financial Services industry in service of? How can we reimagine an FS industry in service of humanity and our wider ecosystem? What are we in our respective roles and lives in service of? How can we all play our part?

Thought for the Day

The pathway to a globally just transition is tough and controversial. There are likely to be losses and grief as we must shed old behaviours and patterns of consumption and production. There may be cause for optimism and joy as we discover we can change and innovate. There will be differences of perspective. To reach the target ahead, there is not only a space for differences, there’s a need for them. And more importantly, we need space to listen and reflect on our own and others experience of our past, present and future.

As part of the run up to COP26, the infamous TED Talks invited the CEO of Shell, Ben van Beurden; Chris James, founder of Engine No. 1 – an activist fund; and Lauren MacDonald, a Scottish activist and a member of the Stop Cambo campaign.

This exchange – one with deep pain expressed – reminded me of the Gregory Bateson phrase “The difference that makes the difference”. Bateson was talking about information and how the information we have can affect our perspectives, situations, and actions. The difference is the space between – and if both parties can better understand the space between and our differences, a subtle shift can make a huge difference.

As governments, NGOs and businesses gather in COP26 – what is the difference that will make the difference? Can we each make shifts in our perspective that allow us to grieve our pasts and embrace a new future?

It will require deep listening, pain and hope. It will not be easy and it will not be straightforward, but we can and must achieve this transformation together.