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Climate change and nature

25 October 2021

The article at a glance

Nature-based solutions to climate change are being undermined by continued destruction of nature, Professor Jennifer Howard-Grenville of Cambridge Judge Business School tells Business Schools for Climate Leadership seminar.

Nature-based solutions to climate change are being undermined by continued destruction of nature, Professor Jennifer Howard-Grenville of Cambridge Judge Business School tells Business Schools for Climate Leadership seminar.

The relationship between climate change and nature goes both ways, so nature-based climate solutions are weakened as human activity continues to destroy nature, Jennifer (Jen) Howard-Grenville of Cambridge Judge Business School told a webinar sponsored by eight European business schools.

Jennifer Howard-Grenville.
Professor Jennifer Howard-Grenville

Nature-based solutions are a crucial and inexpensive way to tackle climate change, with protecting forests having the potential for achieving one-quarter of cost-effective climate mitigation that is needed to limit warming to two degrees. “But the more we destroy nature the more we undermine our capacity to use nature-based solutions”, said Jen, Diageo Professor in Organisation Studies at Cambridge Judge, noting that 20% of the Amazon rainforest has already been lost.

Jen said that beyond the dramatic evidence of climate change’s effect on nature such as wildfires and floods, there are “many more subtle changes” including changes in species such as variation in the coat colour of arctic hares owing to shorter winters. “We need ecologists at the table when we’re making these types of decisions” regarding how businesses and governments tackle climate change and the protection and restoration of nature, she said.

Jen’s remarks came in a webinar entitled “Climate Change & Business: The Role of Nature & Challenges of Decarbonisation”, the third in a series of webinars organised by Business Schools for Climate Leadership (BSCL) – a collective of eight business schools working together to raise awareness of the issues and actions needed to help business leaders tackle climate change.

The group plans to launch a toolkit for businesses at the upcoming COP26 climate-change summit in Glasgow.

Other speakers on the 20 October webinar were:

  • Daniel Halbheer, Associate Professor of Marketing and Academic Director of the Climate and Earth Center at the Society and Organizations Institute, HEC Paris
  • Igor Shishlov, Senior Consultant at Perspectives and Adjunct Lecturer at HEC Paris. The event was moderated by Mike Rosenberg, Professor of the Practice of Management in the Strategic Management Department of IESE Business School in Barcelona.

“There is a way to reduce emissions. The first step is to get rid of waste, it’s green cost cutting, it’s free,” said Daniel Halbheer. “The first thing is to take action; there’s no way around it,” and this can include simple measures for business such as greener transport solutions for employees.

Added Igor Shishlov: “Climate change is clearly a market failure,” so the way to fix a market failure is through government intervention in providing a clear direction and incentives for decarbonisation. “It’s pretty obvious the private sector will not solve the problem alone. There will always be free riders doing business as usual.”

The webinar addressed the practice of carbon offsetting by businesses. While some sectors such as airlines currently have no viable alternatives for reducing their carbon footprints, Jen said that “many other steps could be taken first by most companies” as alternatives to carbon offsetting.

The event closed with a discussion of “net zero” as compared to “zero” when it comes to emissions. “Unfortunately we don’t have the option to take the ‘net’ out of the equation” given current economic and political realities, said Jen, “but we need to keep asking ourselves what we’re actually doing here, and if we’re being fooled by the ‘net’ and avoid the uncomfortable questions of consumption and how we actually drive emissions down, then we’re fooling ourselves.”

Yet despite the challenges, Jen said that businesses are coming around to the crucial importance of addressing climate change and becoming nature positive. “Our economic system, our business incentives, are not created in a way that we can inherently respect nature, but companies are increasingly recognising that their long-term ability to stay in business and their approach to risk means that action is essential.”

Watch the webinar recording

Business Schools for Climate Leadership include:

  • Cambridge Judge Business School
  • HEC Paris, IE Business School
  • IESE Business School
  • The International Institute for Management Development (IMD)
  • London Business School
  • Saïd Business School