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Corporate Leaders Groups

Business leadership for a climate neutral economy

9 April 2020 – The future we create for our society and our planet will depend on agile, compassionate leadership, argues Eliot Whittington, Director of the Corporate Leaders Groups

The world is changing in front of our eyes, as the impact of this global pandemic becomes apparent.

Right now, we don't really know the scale of the changes we face. It could be akin to the 2008 financial crisis that delivered a shock to our systems that continues to shape politics and economics today. Or it might be bigger - setting out a whole new approach from governments, redefining the nature of business and changing the core structure of our financial system.

What is certain is that the spread of Covid-19 has created an unprecedented disruptive moment, as we face not only a public health crisis, but also an economic crisis and a political crisis. We cannot wish this moment away, but instead we need to face up to it and work out together how to protect ourselves and rebuild more resilient systems.

Through the work of the Corporate Leaders Group, we have demonstrated how business can show leadership in response to climate crisis and sought to build positive partnerships with government to support and guide action on that issue. Like everything and everyone else this pandemic will challenge us in how we work and remind us that people and their lives need to come first.

Of course, it remains irresponsible and bad business to ignore the impacts of the climate crisis, just as it is irresponsible and bad business to ignore the impacts of the Covid-19 virus. The pandemic is another reminder that urgent action on climate change is essential, and that as we shape that action we need to think about the human impact of such changes - to follow a just transition in some people's terms.

We need to think about how we can do everything possible to look after people and retain a functioning economy, while also building back with unprecedented levels of resilience that can support people, society and systems in the face of future climate and environmental challenges.

We know from the businesses we work with that climate action is largely well aligned with building new industries, delivering better health outcomes, and more pleasant places to live. These approaches involve creating new jobs and building a more resilient economy. As we rebuild, we must apply these approaches and look to rebuild a stronger economy that works for its people and does not lead us sleepwalking into the next crisis.

We also know that governments are actively wrestling with this. In recent EU Council conclusions the need to ensure that we both cope with the crisis we are immersed in but also keep an eye on the future and the pre-existing goals of delivering a green and prosperous economy emerged clearly.  And despite news that COP26 will be postponed as the UK wrestles with the impact of the virus, it is good to hear it will still be held in Glasgow, reflecting the UK's continued commitment to its net zero target and international action on climate change.

Right now it is difficult to pin down how the next months and years will play out, but the future we create for our society and our planet will depend on agile, compassionate leadership that is ready to engage, debate and discuss with open minds about the best routes through each new challenge as it arises. If we can achieve this there is a very good chance of emerging from the present crisis stronger and more resilient, and ready for the road ahead.


This article was first published on on the 9 April 2020.

About the author

Eliot Whittington web

Eliot is Director of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership's Corporate Leaders Groups – leading the team behind both the Corporate Leaders Group Europe (CLG Europe) and The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) in the UK.


Staff articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.

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