We need to put ourselves in the CEO shoes

Last week I attended a KPMG-sponsored COP21 event hosted by UNESCO at its stunning 1950s-built Paris HQ. One theme in particular emerged from the panel discussion and got me thinking: the role of the CEO.

Let’s face it, being a CEO is an incredibly complicated job. It is tempting for people in the sustainability world to think that CEOs really ought to know as much as we do about climate change and the global response to it. But that is just not a reasonable or realistic expectation. Chief Executives must keep a helicopter view of every aspect of their business. Climate change is just one of hundreds of issues they must deal with on a day-to-day basis.

As one panelist pointed out, CEOs can be forgiven for not keeping up with the pace of recent change in the climate space. After all, if a CEO looked at climate change a few years ago and concluded there was little risk to the business then, he or she could be forgiven for assuming that not much would change in the short term.

Yet things are changing far more quickly than many of us imagined. The meaningful engagement of the US and China in the climate process is changing the game. The cost of renewable technologies is tumbling. An increasing number of countries are turning their backs on coal. We are heading, at an increasing pace, towards 100% decarbonized power and fully electric transport.

But we need to talk to CEOs about all this in the language they understand, and that is the language of risk and opportunity, not altruism. The risk of being left behind and missing out on the vast emerging opportunities of new markets for low carbon solutions. The risk of being unprepared for the pace of change. The risk of disruption from extreme weather. The risk of finite resources. The risk of unaffordable insurance. As Philippe Joubert, former President of Alstom Power, said last night: “Some of the changes we are seeing in the power sector were unthinkable just a few years ago.” That summed it up for me.

Adrian King is KPMG’s Global Head of Sustainability Services. He leads key KPMG stakeholder relationships at a senior level including the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD); Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) and the UN Global Compact (UNGC). Follow Adrian on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AdrianKing_KPMG

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