Young climate protesters in Wakiso, Uganda, in 2019
Young climate protesters in Wakiso, Uganda, in 2019 © Isaac Kasamani/AFP via Getty Images

More than a year into a global pandemic, we are tired of lockdowns and restrictions. We want our lives back.

As infections and deaths persist globally, and distribution of life-saving vaccines and treatments remains grossly inequitable, we have to make critical choices about what normal life will look like — for ourselves and future generations. 

Many of those choices are on the table as the UK assumes global leadership as the host and convener of several events that will begin to shape the post-pandemic future — from last month’s G7 to the Global Education Summit later in July (co-hosted with Kenya) and the COP26 climate conference in November.

All of us must seize this opportunity. There are two possible roads ahead: a deeply flawed business as usual approach, or a global economy that protects people, the planet and the natural systems that sustain us. And business as usual is no longer an option.

Water levels rise in Beira, Mozambique, ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Eloise in January
Water levels rise in Beira, Mozambique, ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Eloise in January © UNICEF/UN0403964/Franco

Even before Covid-19, the world faced multiple crises. The pandemic has only magnified these by: worsening inequality, threatening progress on empowering women and girls, and heightening the risk of intergenerational poverty. 

And we are still on a trajectory towards global warming of more than 3C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. This existential threat will be our legacy to the world’s children — and their children — unless we change direction now. 

The UN Global Compact is determined to help business be a force for that change. Only by supporting a green, inclusive recovery can companies secure their own survival and our collective future. We are calling on companies to set more ambitious, measurable targets for sustainability, and we are holding them accountable to meet those milestones.

A green recovery will require investments in training, education and employment — especially in Africa, home of the largest youth generation in history. By equipping the next generation with the 21st century skills they need, we can build momentum towards a new model of economic growth with the environment and people at the centre.

Young people are leading the way on climate action, but activists such as Greta Thunberg should not have to sail across the Atlantic to garner attention. Responsible leaders in the public and private sectors should champion their cause. 

Some business leaders have begun to do just that. Dozens of companies at the April Leaders’ Summit on climate announced increasing investment in renewable energy, and other decarbonisation measures

It remains to be seen whether these commitments will be matched by adequate financial resources. Still, the Leaders’ Summit announcements generated widespread media attention to the private sector’s key role in transforming the global economy from grey to green.

Thousands of businesses have committed to advancing the Paris Agreement, and more companies are committing to it every week. At the UN Global Compact, we are working with chief financial officers from major corporations to boost sustainability. 

CFOs oversee more than $14tn in corporate investments annually, much of which goes to emerging markets. Increasingly, these executives recognise that, when they integrate sustainability into their policies and practices, they outperform businesses that fail to do so.

1,600 Number of companies joining the Science Based Targets initiative, which promotes best practices for reducing carbon emissions

More than 1,600 companies have joined the Science Based Targets initiative, which promotes best practices for businesses to reduce their carbon emissions. More and more companies realise that cutting greenhouse gases is a good investment. It is not only an environmental and humanitarian imperative; it is a precondition for future economic progress.

The UN Global Compact has joined the Race to Resilience, a campaign to help build the resilience of billions of people by 2030, focusing on those most deeply affected by climate shocks.

Businesses are also contributing to the campaign through the Water Resilience Coalition, to improve water availability for 100m people in greatest need. Children are always among the most vulnerable in the face of water stress and other climate-related crises. Access to safe water is also important to help parents protect themselves and their children from Covid-19 and other diseases.

A failure of adult leadership has left children and young people — and all of us — in a race against time. Humanity cannot afford any more missed opportunities. Now is the moment to fast-track climate solutions. We need bold action today to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

The choice between a liveable planet and a healthy global economy is false. Taking climate action is the best way to build more resilient businesses, communities and societies. 

Three of the Global Compact’s 10 guiding principles address environmental stewardship. Our principles on human rights are also intertwined with the climate agenda. Vulnerability to climate risks directly correlates with income inequality. Unless we protect the rights of those most exposed to the effects of climate change, we can expect them to become even more marginalised and their grievances to be reinforced. Beyond environmental preservation, our prospects for global stability, peace and security are at stake. 

We are on this journey together. It is a journey out of the pandemic and one that can take us to a safer, more equitable world — a sustainable future that spares today’s young people and their children from the most catastrophic effects of climate change, allowing them to fulfil their potential as the leaders of tomorrow.

We know the way. For their sake, with patience, determination and all deliberate speed, let’s get moving.

© TEK

Sanda Ojiambo is the chief executive officer and executive director of the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, which aims to realise the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Read her full essay on the Unicef website, here

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