Maintaining Climate Action Momentum | ENGIE Impact

Maintaining Momentum Through the UPS and Downs of Climate Progress

Article | Read Time 7 mins
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Mathias Lelievre Chief Executive Officer
Corporate Sustainability

Organizations and individuals are taking climate action, global progress continues, and there is good news in the decarbonization world. In the U.S., the Inflation Reduction Act is being rolled out and California recently passed climate disclosure laws SB 253 and SB 261. In the rest of the world, the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) is going into effect and funding is flowing into Asia and the Pacific.

The 2023 Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP28) did publish its first global stocktake agreeing to contribute to, among other things, transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, accelerating zero- and low-emission technologies, and phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. But the conference also included moments like OPEC Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais urging members to oppose any efforts to phase out or end the use of fossil fuels, and many of the most at-risk nations sharing their dissatisfaction. There was also a continued trend of many wanting to focus only on emissions, not consumption.

Others focused on how much work there still is to be done. “There is huge momentum and strong dynamics to build the low-carbon energy system of tomorrow,” ENGIE CEO Catherine MacGregor said to Bloomberg. But she went on to add, as an example, “A lot needs to happen for [the hydrogen market] to indeed mature to the level we need, we need regulation, we need a lot of green electrons, a lot, and you also need the infrastructure.”

Overall, news around climate action is mixed. Global emissions still haven’t peaked, which is an important milestone in long-term climate progress. Some potentially impactful regulations don’t pass or are ultimately neutered to be mostly ineffective. According to our 2024 Net Zero Report, 16% of large global companies surveyed plan to make a public carbon-reduction commitment in the next two years, but 18% currently do not have such a commitment and don’t have short-term plans to announce one.

So with the deluge of news — both encouraging and discouraging — how are companies to continue to drive change management, maintain enthusiasm, and keep the end goal in sight?

Balancing Decarbonization Achievements and Challenges

There is tremendous progress being made, on both the macro and micro level, toward decarbonization. But we need to acknowledge that there is still a long way to go — with new challenges, some unforeseen, emerging along the way. We can feel both encouraged by the advancements that have been made to date and overwhelmed by the journey that’s still ahead.

There are aspects of traditional change management approaches that can be valuable in the corporate decarbonization context. The need for a clear vision and strategy, for leaders championing goals, for proper resource allocation, for employee education and engagement, for proper internal and external communication, and so many more familiar principles organizations are well equipped to continue. However, it's important to recognize that the scale and urgency of decarbonization efforts may require a more dynamic and adaptive approach. We’ve seen that in most cases, existing governance and change management structures serve as an adequate foundation, yet are simply not sufficient for addressing the full scope and impact of a holistic decarbonization program.

The reasons decarbonization demands some special change management considerations include its:

  • Global Nature: Traditional change management often focuses on internal processes and structures, and may even vary country by country or site by site. And while there will always be some localized variations, addressing climate change requires a broader perspective that involves collaboration with various outside stakeholders as well — governments, suppliers, and even other industry players
  • Long-Term Impact: Corporate change management processes are often designed for short- to medium-term objectives. Adjusting to a decarbonized future requires sustained efforts and a commitment to long-term goals that extend beyond typical business planning cycles.
  • Technology Implications: Decarbonization often involves the adoption of new technologies and innovative solutions that are still being tested. Companies can’t always wait for the proven solution and need to be willing to invest in research and development to stay ahead in the rapidly evolving landscape of sustainable technologies.
  • Focus from Stakeholders: Customers and shareholders don’t typically concern themselves with the internal operations of an organization, but they do when it comes to sustainability efforts. This brings an additional need for inclusivity and transparency.

So in some ways, we can use the same lens we have to manage any type of change in the corporate world. But given some of these unique challenges associated with decarbonization, corporate leaders need to adopt a more adaptive, collaborative, and forward-looking approaches to change management.

Anchoring to the Why

In a world gripped by the urgent need for climate action, the push to value even seemingly small steps toward progress has never been more critical. Continuing to anchor an organization to the broader mission, measuring progress toward established goals, and creating a culture of transparency are vital to navigating the ups and downs along the way.

In the ever-evolving landscape of climate action, we witness a constant ebb and flow. These cycles of advancement and challenge serve as a reminder that the path to decarbonization is a journey with its peaks and valleys. Embracing this cyclical nature is crucial for organizations navigating the climate terrain.

Sustaining enthusiasm for climate action relies on grounding efforts in a clear and compelling purpose. When setbacks occur or regulations fall short, it's the unwavering commitment to the why that keeps organizations on course. Reconnecting with the fundamental mission of addressing climate change provides the motivation to overcome obstacles and maintain focus in the face of adversity.

Measuring Success and Tracking Progress

The effectiveness of climate action hinges on the ability to quantify success and monitor progress. Being able to point to specific, measurable results helps to counteract any overarching narratives that may focus only on work that still needs to be done. Establishing clear metrics and key performance indicators is fundamental, so organizations must employ data-driven strategies to assess their carbon-reduction progress and commitments. This data-driven approach not only ensures that climate initiatives remain on track, but supports the level of increased transparency companies will need to meet — an expectation that’s part of both government reporting regulations and pressures from shareholders, customers, and employees — to avoid unfair criticism.

A fully formed carbon and resource data practice also helps weather the ups and downs of the decarbonization journey, providing opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate advancements along the way. Celebrating those wins and recognizing achievements, whether they are monumental milestones or smaller victories, is essential for sustaining momentum in the climate action journey. These celebrations foster a culture of positivity, instill motivation, and energize individuals and organizations to persist in their climate efforts. These moments of celebration can invigorate teams, employees, and customers — helping drive through challenges that will inevitably emerge down the road.

Long-Term Perspective of Climate Action

In the urgent realm of climate action, a steadfast long-term perspective is imperative. It's a marathon, not a sprint. The journey toward decarbonization is beset with challenges, but it's the commitment to the long-term wellbeing of individuals and organizations that ensures success. An unwavering dedication to the overarching goal of mitigating climate change will provide the strength to persevere, no matter the obstacles that arise.

The key to addressing climate change successfully lies in embracing these principles and applying them on a global scale. As we move forward with climate action, let's remember we all have the power to inspire change and succeed — even in the face of daunting challenges.

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