135: Sally Uren, Chief Executive of Form for the Future
Guest Name(s): Sally Uren
Dr. Sally Uren is Chief Executive of Forum for the Future. Sally leads the Forum’s mission to create a just and regenerative future. She is laser focused when it comes to transforming how the world thinks about, produces, consumes, and values both food and energy.
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You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, your host, and I’ve got Dr. Sally Uren on the program. Dr. Uren is an doctorate in environmental science. She’s the Chief Executive for Forum for the Future. She’s a global expert and leader in sustainable development.
She’s been with Forum for the Future for over 20 years. She’s been featured in Time Magazine, Forbes green business, Reuters, the Huffington Post, New Statesman management today, she’s been all over the news. She serves as a judge for the king’s award for sustainable development in the UK. And welcome to the program. Sally.
Thank you. Good to be here.
Well, tell us a little bit about your trajectory of how you ended up in the environmental movement. What What led you on this path?
Great question. Um, I have always been interested in nature. I was a little bit of a nerd when I was growing up. And I did a degree in biology because it was so long ago that environmental science wasn’t a thing. And it was during my degree that I began to get interested in the impacts of pollution on ecosystems. And critically, my research was focused on how do you restore ecosystems, and there’s a part of the UK called Manchester.
There Salford Keys in Manchester that used to be called Salford Docks, it was one of the most polluted waterways in the UK. And the third year of my degree, I was involved in cleaning it up. And we went from a really polluted water course to one that was clean that had, you know, thriving flora and fauna inside it. And I just was really exhilarated at that prospect of regeneration and restoration.
So I did a PhD looking at the impacts of pollution on ecosystems and how you reverse those impacts. And then I went out to the rainforest of Borneo got involved in reforesting, logged over forest, again, working in how you get regeneration of forest. And so is the possibility of restoring damage, but not just being less bad, but creating something even better. That, I guess is where this all comes from?
Well, that’s a great story. So how did that lead you to form for the future?
Yeah, so I was in academia for a while. And so I was in Borneo doing a postdoctoral research fellowship, which is quite a mouthful, and couldn’t quite decide whether to stay in academia and publish papers and become a grandi in academic circles. And it was out in the rain forests of Borneo, which was at the height of all the illegal deforestation.
And I just had a moment when I realized the world does not need any more papers by scrn. I need to take everything I’ve learned and apply it particularly into the private sector. And so I came back to the UK and at that point, really had two options. I could join a campaigning nonprofit, or I could go work in consultancy, so I became an air quality consultant involved in planning applications for big infrastructure developments.
And that broadened out into sustainability created the sustainability group, then realized I was a terrible consultant because I never actually did what anyone asked me to do, because I didn’t think it was ambitious enough. And at that point, I got talking to Jonathan Poirot, who just set up for him. And I moved over to forum and have not looked back since.
Well, I interviewed Sir Jonathan Porritt at a while back, a wonderful gentleman. And yeah, so I could see following in his footsteps would be kind of a natural path.
Yeah, he was a great, great mentor for me as well.
So how did you two work together? What kind of brought you two together?
Um, we could both really see that the private sector had, at that point, a really untapped role in creating accelerator programs progress towards sustainable development, and how we first worked together literally, I think I carried his back. And we would go to meetings and, you know, he would do the sort of Jonathan Poirot cheering and wonderful eloquence and I was sitting there thinking, wow, this is amazing. How do you communicate like that?
And I learned a lot from Jonathan and yeah, so I was basically just trading around after him for quite a while and then learn the true Back to the trade and began to be that person that people would listen to in meetings, sometimes not always. But yeah, we worked very closely together. In the early days of forums business program between us, we were involved in lots of really exciting partnerships. And then more likely, Jonathan was a trustee, so slightly less removed.
But yeah, I’m still very much in contact with him. And as I say, we were both really struck by the role of the private sector, which at this point, 20 odd years ago, wasn’t really a source of much interest. And in fact, when Jonathan set up for him and started to work with business, he had come from Friends of the Earth, and was criticized for working with business.
And now if you look at all of the nonprofits, from Greenpeace, to Friends of the Earth, they all engage with business, because we have to engage with the private sector, we also have to engage with government, civil society. But the private sector is critical if we’re going to get to where we need to get to.
Oh, absolutely true. I mean, we have to harness the power of the private sector to get people working on these projects to get them completed.
And so tell us a little bit about the private sector, you know, work that you’ve done, or collaborating with various private sector groups?
Sure, um, I guess our engagement with the private sector forum, is alongside our engagement with civil society with government because we do take a systems view and we know we need to work with all actors in a system. Specifically, in terms of private sector engagement, two main ways we engage, we have partnerships with leading organizations where we will co create strategies build capacity for deep and urgent transformation.
And then we also run a number of pre competitive collaborations looking at issues such as regenerative agriculture, how do we accelerate action at the intersection of climate health?
How do we scale renewable energy, and increasingly, as a neutral convener, we’re able to bring lots of organizations together, often competitors, but in a pre competitive space to really work together to tackle these share challenges.
So let’s, let’s talk about agriculture for a second, and what are some of the things that you’ve seen as successes, that Forum for the Future has been involved in?
And what are some of the areas that still need a lot of work to make progress? And kind of maybe you could tell us, hey, where are we at? Kind of on that path? Are we 10% of the way there or 2% of the way there? You know, 20?
Great question. So at four, and we’re focused on three transitions. One is the transition with the energy system. One is the transition of the role of business. But the third is food and agriculture. And so we do a lot of work in regenerative agriculture. And if you think about how you conceptualize systemic change, then there’s usually three phases, you have to create the case for change, that’s when the system starts to move, then you have accelerated system change, which is really messy and volatile.
That’s kind of where we are right now with many of our systems. And then you have the sort of stabilization of a new system. And with food and ag, I think we’ve just tipped into that accelerator phase of systemic change. The case for change is really clear. We’ve got soil quality in many parts of the world, which won’t sustain the crop harvest that we need.
We’ve built a food system on the back of the second world war that is incredibly extractive that isn’t delivering nutrition in an equitable way to a growing population. And so we need to shift the goals of the food system for goals of regenerative. So equal access to nutrition, really bringing goods and services to market in a way that restores ecosystems that critically delivers cost of production to the smallholder people don’t want to go into agriculture because actually, it’s hard to make a living.
And so I think we, I mean, we is like everyone involved in this space, we’ve articulated different set of goals for the system, there’s lots of activity to enable the transition of the system, how far we are just look at I look kind of at the US ag system, which I don’t know how different it is from the you know, the UK system or other systems, but the US system seems still very dominantly controlled by extractive type players and I mean, in part because the food system is controlled by mostly major food companies that are not really fully engaged in the process of using healthy inputs and and a lot of pesticides and all these kinds of things are still being sprayed on crops and and the like.
I think the US, our system is in transition. I think you’ve got some really thoughtful brands such as General Mills, who we do a lot of work with that are really serious about regenerative agriculture. And they’ve just announced a partnership with Walmart to convert I think 600 hectares of land to regenerative agriculture. Now, in part, that’s because the existential crisis in food is really real.
You know, there literally are some parts of the world where there might be two crops left, because soil quality is so poor. But I think there’s just an incredible energy flowing into this space, which is understanding that if we can restore agriculture, then we can deal with impacts of climate, we can build in climate adaptation, we can also address issues around social equity and inequality.
So yes, Food and Ag in the US has got its issues, it is extractive in parts. But I would say there’s an increasing number of big players that recognize the way that we extracted the agricultural system in the past isn’t how we’re going to go forward and increasing brands and are really getting serious about regenerative agriculture. We’re not there yet. And you know, have all these organizations completely converted No, they haven’t that is work in progress. But I would say region Ag in the US right now is a really exciting space.
Well, you’re listening to A Climate Change, so we’ve got Dr. Sally Uren, environmental scientist, the executive and Forum for the Future and we’ll be right back. Great discussion with her about many of the most important topics that we’re facing.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. I’ve got Dr. Sally Uren, environmental scientist and Chief Executive of Forum for the Future. And, Sally, prior to the break, we were talking about the state of agriculture, particularly related to the US. And yes, I do see spots of, you know, bright spots on we’ve got a number of stores that promote food that does not have pesticides, or doing you know, does not use GMOs and stuff like that.
So I do see a lot more of that. I guess, I just want to, I want to see more change and more quickly, because I do know that our ag system is still dominated by by major farmers that use tons of pesticides and and how long is that going to go on for? You know, do you have any guesses as to how quickly this accelerated phase is going to take till we get to a point, a tipping point, where, you know, more than 50% of our agriculture is using regenerative techniques and the like.
I wish I had a crystal ball. And I always say that predicting the future is usually a fool’s game. However, I think this could be quite quick because converting to more regenerative agriculture can actually save you money, you’re saving on input costs that you no longer need. The big biggest barrier is that conversion phase on on land.
So often, what you find is when you convert your practices, there might be a slight dip in yield, which if you’re already you know, really struggling in terms of financial sustainability, that can be super tough. And that’s why I love the work of organizations like Rabobank, who are going to work with the farmers looking at different ways of accessing capital. I love this whole notion of ecosystem business models so we can create revenue from restoring soil and house from improving ecosystems.
So I think if we can get that financial unlock working at scale, then it could be really, really quick. The thing we have to remember is in any systemic change, there are always resisting forces. And the closer you get to a system changing the stronger they become that is what’s beginning to happen, I think in sustainability. More broadly right now. There are individuals organizations that don’t want a sustainable energy system. They don’t want a sustainable food system.
Because actually, this system really suits them. And so they’re digging in, excuse the metaphor, we’re talking about agriculture, but it’s really real. But if we know about this, and we understand that this is happening, then we can engage, we can understand the motivation. And they may come with us, they may not come with us. But I think the impetus for change now is really uncontestable.
Climate change isn’t going to go anywhere, we’ve already baked in serious climate disruption. And I think people are beginning to realize that and asked me so what can we do about that? Well, if we shift our energy and food systems really, really quickly, then we might avoid the worst of climate change?
Well, I guess I look at the US system, and in terms of just the governmental funding funds, kind of the the system that we know, and which is the extractive model. And given kind of the general dysfunction of the US government at this point in time, particularly at the federal level, it’s hard to see that we’re going to have any kind of massive change, I don’t know maybe, maybe you’re seeing something or have your ear to the ground, as to changes that the Department of Agriculture that is that are moving in that direction.
What I do know is the Inflation Reduction Act, which is a really bold set of financing to enable us to transition energy and food is interestingly proving able, in some cases to step across the politicization of this agenda. Money is flowing into climate adaptation to climate smart agriculture is flowing into renewable energy provision renewed renewable energy manufacturing, and that’s bringing jobs and jobs are really important.
And I’ve seen the political shift happen in some regions, when actually, it’s become really clear that the IRA is a way of funding the transition and actually could deliver economic benefit at a really local level. And so, I think, let’s not forget about the inflation and reduction that, yes, there’s all sorts of dysfunctionality elsewhere on the farm bills, then it’s going to get postponed. But the inflation Reduction Act is a really powerful lever for change, because it’s fast tracking capital into the transition.
And that is the bit that is a lot. We need money to make this transition. And the inflation Reduction Act is providing that, and any politician wants to say I helped create new jobs. And they’re able to say that with the funding from the IRA, I guess I’d say a couple of things. One is my concern about our animal centric, AG policy, which I mean, most of our most of our crops are used to feed animals.
And and that’s not exactly sustainable. And yet, I don’t see any dramatic reduction in that in that area. And it seems like that is an area that has to be shifted in order to really have restored the environment in a big way. Would you agree?
Yeah, I do think so we need to see a dietary shift, we need to see a shift from huge reliance on animal protein, which is incredibly carbon intensive to more plant based protein. So for us, we’re not an either org or organization, we wouldn’t ever say it’s meat, or it’s not me, because there are some parts of the world where grazing livestock is really brilliant for the environment, it helps maintain the landscape, the carbon intensity is much lower.
And so we need to ask ourselves, what is that optimal blend of animal and plant based protein that’s in line with planetary boundaries, it’s in line with the principles of regenerative agriculture. So you can have sustainable dairy, you can have really unsustainable dairy. But I think we do need to reduce the reliance on often crops that are perfectly fit for human consumption going to animal feed, because that doesn’t make any sense.
So one of the projects we’ve been involved with in forum is called the protein challenge. And we’ve done a lot of work on sustainable animal feed. So if you shift the animal feed, you tell a different story about the carbon. So there’s plenty we can do to bring down the carbon intensity of livestock. We’re not doing enough. We do though, need on balance to eat less meat.
Well, tell us how how would you see if raising meat, raising beef and other forms of animal protein more sustainably? What does that look like?
Well, as I say, is thinking about the feedstock. So how do you use feedstock that actually is not fit for human consumption that is wasted material. There’s lots of innovations in that space. How the animal Walls are tended for and grazed. We know that some of these really intensive farming, manufacturing’s? Well, there are manufacturing, aren’t they?
These intensive farming installations can be incredibly carbon intensive. But equally, we know that there are some synthetic, some sustainable dairy installations that, you know, I’ve got a very light carbon footprint. We know how to do this, it’s more that there is huge resistance in the system for change, it’s going back to everything I see at the moment tells me that we know how to create a sustainable food system, we know how to create a sustainable energy system. We are experiencing a lot of pushback right now from very well funded, resisting forces.
And so we just need to be really clear about the pathways to get to a sustainable food system. And we know what that looks like and it and we need to avoid it’s no meat or some meat because that’s just polarizing. Because the other thing that’s happening is, we tend to be very binary is this or is that and that just creates polarization. And we’ve lost the whole gaze on what we’re trying to achieve here. So this whole transition is way more no at nuance than anyone would care to, really, except it is nuanced.
And so there are some parts of the west where animal livestock production makes a huge amount of sense has been done very carefully, very thoughtfully in line with ecosystem assets, other parts where it isn’t, we need to shine a light on the really great practice and scale that and transition in a way that’s thoughtful, we don’t want people to lose their jobs.
So that’s where this whole notion of just transition for me is so critical right now, how do we transition our food and our energy system in a way that doesn’t leave people behind? That doesn’t play into the politicization of this agenda? That is actually thoughtful? And we actually know how to do that?
Well, I guess the question is, how do you get a big meat consumer, such as one of the big restaurant chains, or McDonald’s or whoever, you know, probably uses as much meat or chicken as anywhere else? Get them committed to using environmentally sustainable animal products? And where are we? Where are we at in that process?
I think we’re making good progress. And I think McDonald’s are a good example. They’re doing a huge amounts in sustainable livestock. What you will hear, though, is a reluctance to go too far ahead of the consumer, and worry that the consumer isn’t ready for, you know, sustainable beef or switching to Anna to plant based proteins.
And I would just say, week can’t wait for consumer demand for sustainable food. We need to step over the myth it costs more it doesn’t, it can actually save money. And we need to accept that consumer sentiment is a lagging indicator, not a forward indicator. And we need all of these big brands to just be slightly ahead of the consumer. Yes, still sell meat. But yes, also sell delicious, tasty plant based protein, which it can be all of that and understand what their role is in a sustainable future. And it’s not quite the same role that they have today.
Well, I was at a restaurant just a few days ago, and I was getting a pasta was bolognese sauce. And it was made with impossible meat. And I really would have said it was meat had I not known. I mean, it really was so close to, to meat that it it really was hard to tell the difference.
So you’re listening to A Climate Change. I’ve got Dr. Sally Uren, environmental scientist, Chief Executive of Forum for the Future. We’ll be right back in just one minute.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, and I’ve got Dr. Sally Uren on the program. She’s the Chief Executive for Forum for the Future. So we were talking before the break about private sector in the ag world, and kind of want to pivot to maybe the energy sector for a minute and talk about what the private sector is doing there.
I just recently was looking at, you know, an article where the Exxon chief CEO was, was admitting, hey, climate change is real, and trying to say that Exxon is doing stuff to help. It’s it’s kind of questionable, given the fact that Exxon had done its best to hide the role of the oil industry, in creating this existential threat that we have.
What are the some of the angels and devils that you see out there in the private sector that are driving change for the good and those who are kind of stuck in the past and seem to have a devil may care attitude towards the destruction to the environment that they’re that their companies are creating?
I guess, thank you for that question. Before I give you an I tend to shine a light on devils and not speak, angels even and not speak about the devils. But before I do that, you’ve got to ask yourself, why did Exxon hide the science? You know, their predictions actually turned out to be pretty spot on?
Why was there so much resistance in the oil and gas industry to deal with climate to embrace renewable technology? And I think one of the reasons is just to focus on short term profit maximization. I think this kind of fixation with quarterly returns, which is still being driven by a huge part of the investment world is one of the drivers that we’re dealing with here, not the bad people in oil and gas, you know, they are often just responding to their shareholders.
And so the angels then that I see are those organizations that have taken a longer term view and see their role in society quite differently, one of the best examples in energy as the transition of DONG Energy into Orsted. So also known as one of the leaders in renewable energy provision, and it’s kind of just repurposed, its business has been part of the solution for renewable energy, because it looked into the future.
And in a world where there are carbon trading mechanisms where there’s a price on each tonne of carbon dioxide emitted, then your business model doesn’t really work so well. So that long term view gave them an understanding of what that transition needed to look like. And you’re seeing other organizations in energy really becoming quite clear about that. So for me, it’s not about the devils in the angels, per se. It’s like what’s driving this behavior?
And I just think this absolute fixation on short term profit maximization which is underpinning a casino economy that’s working for the room, very, very few. One stat that I always quote, but it for me signifies the challenge. If the economy carries on as it’s doing today by 2030 99% of the world will also be held by 1% of the population that this doesn’t make any sense at all. And so the organizations that I really want to celebrate are those that have taken a long term view of reimagine their role in society have understood how to create value from creating some of the solutions that we know we need to see.
And the devils are those that are just stuck in the past that are digging on really, actually, quite powerfully to a status quo, that will lead us to a hothouse Earth. And if any investors listened to your program, I would really ask them to go and look at their portfolios and ask if they carry on investing as they are doing today.
Where are they going to get sources of value creation, because there will always be parts of the world where you can emit a carbon dioxide because I don’t think we’re ever going to get a binding agreement that brings in every nation state. But there are certain trading bloc’s, EU will be the first where there’ll be a price on carbon. And actually, you’re not going to make the money that you’re making today. So get out of it transition rapidly and just do it seriously.
Well, that that is really the failure of the market. And that essentially, the marketplace, as described by Adam Smith just did not price in pollution, because pollution wasn’t a factor 250 years ago, and and John Locke wrote about stewardship. And unfortunately, that lesson kind of got lost in business school. And our business schools here and in Europe, did not account for stewardship, it wasn’t taught to modern business leaders that that was a part of what they should be doing.
And they started to look at, like you said, short term profit profits were the measure of whether you are good business leader. And there just has to be a shift in that view, which, and we’ve got to have a price for carbon, quite frankly, because essentially, we’re not pricing, we’re not having corporations pay the true price or us as consumers to pay the true price of the products that we use.
And that that’s, that’s really a huge problem. And I echo your your comments about shareholders, we all need to take a look at our portfolios and say, Hey, do we want to be holding shares of big polluters? And is that? Is that how we want to have our legacy be be known? And I think the answer is no. And to the extent that we move into shares of companies that are doing the ethical and responsible thing, the market will take notice, but we we kind of as shareholders need to let the market know what we feel.
And I think, you know, I often get asked, well, what can we as individuals do. And if you are lucky enough to have savings or a pension, find out where that money is invested. Because you may get a really nasty surprise, it could be invested in the sovereign wealth fund that is currently funding the war between Russia and the Ukraine, it could be invested in an oil and gas industry that’s got no no appetite to transition at all.
But find out where your money is because actually, pensions in particular, underpin a lot of the machinery of our global economy. And, you know, if 1000s and millions of people demanded to see their money, put in service of the transition of the energy system, the transition to the food system, then people would listen.
And that’s already happening. You’re already see activist, shareholders activist pension holder. So I’m just struck by the fact that many people have no idea where their money is invested. So find out.
Right, so where do you see us in terms of COP28? That’s coming up, and it’s going to be in Dubai, which is kind of ground zero for the extractive oil economy and fossil fuels in general? What what are you looking to do there? And what do you think the challenges are? And what are the opportunities that you see in working with the Gulf states to to create a regenerative future? Are they part are they going to be partners in this?
Yeah, I think the word the two words of 2023 for me will be cognitive dissonance and so flying it flying thousands of people to Dubai, to discuss climate, the cognitive dissonance that is not lost on me at all. Stepping over that, what we form for the future hoping to achieve at COP 28 We are launching a toolkit that will enable you private sector actors to really take action at the intersection of climate and health.
So to push netzero strategies even further to talk about health benefits, we tend to treat climate health as two separate issues. They are in fact, one of the same issues. We already are witnessing that. So we’re launching a toolkit that we hope will accelerate private sector action in this space. More broadly, it’s what’s called a stocktake year for COP.
And, again, the cognitive dissonance is we know we’re already miles away from making the progress that we need to see. And I guess my hope is that, in particular, we will see more inter governmental cooperation, I think the private sector, by and large, kind of understands what it needs to do. But what it will say is one of the enablers is public policy is government policy, its policy that stable that doesn’t flip flop from one position to another.
And so, for me, I will be really interested to see what happens behind closed doors in the negotiations that involving, you know, the big heavy carbon emitters, plus the newer entrants to our global economy for whom the economic case rapidly carbonize isn’t there, because they know they’ll lose loads of jobs.
So, probably what is the most important agreement come out of COP28 will be the loss and damage agreement will be the recognition that actually the so called Global North or the industrial, industrialized nations of the world, they need now to invest in the rapid developing economies help them rapidly decarbonize, not help that sounds really patchy, I don’t mean that enable that rapid decarbonisation invest in it, but your shares and your stocks in it.
But I think this notion that we can expect rapidly developing nations to not to kind of ignore what we’ve been ignoring. And you know, they’re already feeling the brunt of climate change to rapidly decarbonize without any investment from us is ridiculous. And so we were all in this together, climate change has no borders. So loss and damage, serious amounts of funding going into rapidly growing economies to enable that growth to be clean and to be green.
It’s certainly a aggressive strategy, and certainly one that will be challenging in the extreme to get countries to buy into that I know that Biden administration was kind of pushing back on the language of the loss and damage fund that was going to be created because they don’t want to create a an a blank check for the damage that the United States has probably been a big contributor too.
So, you’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, and I’ve got Sally Uren on the program who is the environmental scientist for a Forum for the Future. And we’ll be right back in just one minute.
You’re listening to A Climate Change, and I’ve got Dr. Sally Uren on the program. Sally you’re going to COP28. And, and in Dubai, there’s certainly a lot of going to be a lot of business people from the fossil fuel industry there. But these people are also innovators, entrepreneurs, and smart enough to realize that the future is going to be one that has less oil in it, because of our need to make this transition.
So they’re not stupid. They they recognize and that’s probably why they are having the carpet at in Dubai is because the smart money realizes this, they have to make the transition. Do you think they that their energy and innovation can be harnessed effectively for the environmental movement? And for good?
I think anything is possible. And I think that is totally possible. Is it probable? I don’t know. I think we really are at a sort of crossroads. When it comes to sustainability. I think we all know we need to do something differently. And I think you have really smart people in oil and gas that know they need to do something differently. There are real barriers, we’ve talked about them short term horizons, investor attitudes that make it harder to make that transition.
So in the end, I do think we need to rely on human creativity, innovation, and that ability to sort of reimagine how we do things. And that might mean giving up some things that we hold a dear thought for all of us, perhaps but it will also means getting something a bit different. And so I think, you know, the COP28 negotiations and all of the expo will be in the Expo Center in Dubai, which is, you know, a kind of testament to human imagination of what you can build in the middle of a desert.
And you know, there are some real renewable energy plays there. I just Yeah, I think we’re at the crossroads. And so if we’re at a crossroads, what do we need to equip ourselves with, to sort of take a different path? And first of all, I think it is that imagination to think of a different energy system to conceptualize a different food system.
I think it is about accessing the capital that will support that transition. But I think most of all, when we look back over this moment in our history, it will be a story of courage, I think and bravery. I actually think that’s what it will come down to whether or not there are humans knocking around this planet of ours, this beautiful planet of ours.
By the end of the century. It will be a human story as to whether or not we’re here or not, because actually it’s down to us as humans, we’ve got all the technology, we’ve got all the money, we know the solutions. We just need to be better humans.
So who would you speaking of better humans? Who would you put on your your Mount Rushmore of climate change activists who are who’ve made kind of the difference thus far or that are an inspiration to you that we could be people that are unknown, but are still inspiring to you?
Yeah, um, well, I would say this because it’s a woman perhaps but Christiana Figueres is amazing. A wonderful mix of tough talk, but that kind of stubborn optimism which I really relate to I would also describe myself as a stubborn optimist. I would also leave space for those entrepreneurs that are at the edge of our system right now that are coming up with brilliant ideas that will get scaled.
And, you know, I’m inspired by some industry figures, you know, inspired by proof like Mark Carney, ex governor, the Bank of England has really done a lot to try and galvanize action in the finance system. But actually, I don’t think we need heroes right now. I think we did. As all to realize what this agenda means to us and for us all to do something about it and not imagine that we’re victims.
We’re not and I always use this quote by Buckminster Fuller, Buckminster Fuller, US architect, you know, he said, a long time ago, we’re called to be architects of our future, not victims. And that’s all of us. And so hoping that a hero will save us, I think is a false hope. I think, actually, we’ve all got a role to play, that role might be slightly different, some roles might be more impactful than others. But this is down to all of us. We can’t rely on a hero to save us now. We’ve got all shift.
Well, I will say that, to me, it’s brilliant. And I totally agree with this, that everybody has a role to play, I guess, going in that direction. What uh, what would you say to people about finding that role and and following that role and making that change?
I think, first of all, this notion that we can rely on individuals to be put in to kind of, we can’t put all the reliance on individuals. So I’m not I’m not saying that because we, you know, disproportionately the private sector, governments have got more agency more levers that they can pull. So we need the private sector and governments are really starting to pull those levers seriously and with intent.
But guess what, politicians listen to people what they care about a votes. And that is down to what we think as individuals. And so I would say to anybody, find your voice, tell people what you think about this agenda, find out more about it, I’m still struck, but when, whenever I do a presentation on, and here is the current trajectory of our climate, it could be six degrees hotter by the end of the century.
It’s like it’s news. And you’re right. I want a minute why? Well, how can you do this? So we caught up, pay attention, this stuff matters. And every dollar you spend sends a signal to a politician, to a brand owner, these systems are all interconnected. Don’t think you have no power or agency. Everybody does. Just think about it.
Right? It’s a tide. And so maybe at first, it’s a small ripple. And it’s one person that you talk to, but you keep talking every day to different people. And pretty soon it’s hundreds of people that you’re having these conversations with, and and then it starts to move the needle a little bit more and.
And then also kind of engaged, really engaging in politics, maybe not just voting, but going out there and campaigning for people who support your ideas, and putting your money where your mouth is in terms of giving money to political candidates that support environmentally sustainable positions, and then all of a sudden, politicians start listening a little bit more to those of us who are making these noises.
Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, many politicians would say there’s no votes in to the sustainability agenda, I would really challenge that I just think there’s sometimes a lack of engagement or lack of awareness. And people can be overwhelmed by this agenda. It is overwhelming, it is complex. But it affects all of us, the people that we love, particularly, you know, I have three children and I worry about the world they’re heading into.
So really care, and we all need to care. And I get there’s a cost living crisis. Many families, you know, here in the UK in the US, you know, they’ve they’ve got other things I really need to worry about. So for those of those, you know, that are in positions of influence, let’s use that influence and we absolutely need business and government to step up both of them together in collaboration and cooperation.
Well, let’s let’s take an exercise of imagination, say you’re queen for the day, what are the top three to five strategies that you would say are most impactful in in moving us towards the direction of solving the problems of climate change? And I realized there are hundreds of potential. So this is not the easiest question out there.
And it isn’t the easiest question. But I think what I would do is, I would evaluate all the different policy mechanisms that would facilitate a rapid transition of finance into sustainable energy into sustainable food. So at the moment, access to capital, I think, is one of the biggest issues, there isn’t enough of it, it’s not flowing through quickly enough, you’ve got investors that aren’t convinced yet that this is where they need to put their money.
So I would introduce a carbon market overnight introduced that full price and carbon make those externalities factored in, I wouldn’t pass that cost on to the consumer, that would be a terrible idea. It’s not fair to do that doesn’t need to happen. But I would pull some very big policy levers to transition our economy, because I think if the economy transitions, the other nasty transitions of food of health of energy will follow through.
We lost you at policy levers, can you repeat that, or just…
Oh, sorry. I would look at all the big policy levers that we could pull to transform how capital flows in our economy, and to ensure that that capital is flowing into sustainable energy, sustainable food, sustainable health care, probably by putting a value on the price of carbon that gets factored into every investment decision that’s made.
I would transform the investment community and just unlock the power of Finance to accelerate the investments, and access to innovation that we need, all the solutions are there, we know what needs to happen. And I would also make it illegal to report on quarterly profit returns.
I think that’s, that’s brilliant. I really like the pricing carbon. And, and, you know, back 20, some years ago, President Bush was was talking about pricing carbon, you know, but unfortunately, that never happened. You know, and he was an oil guy. So I mean, it’s something that is, is elegant, and it helps solve the problem most effectively.
I mean, that’s, that’s the best that would be the first thing I would do, I just put a price on carbon, I would put in also mechanisms to make sure that price isn’t transferred to goods and services, it doesn’t need to be that that price is hypothecated and allocated within capital markets.
That’s a fascinating switch. And I guess, you know, you could give some kind of tax rebate to people who are lower lower income people, so that they don’t bear the brunt of it. But people who are, who are upper income can afford to if you’re going to buy a carbon intensive product, you pay the full price for that product. But if you’re, if you’re a lower income person, you don’t have to.
Well, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show. Please come back and talk to us in the future. Maybe after you go see COP28.
You know, best of luck there. And you’ve been listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, and I’ve had Dr. Sally Uren on the program, please follow her on social media as well as follow our show, check us out at AClimateChange.com or check us out on Spotify, Apple iHeart, or any of the other platforms we’re on.
Have a great day everybody and tune in next week.
(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)
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