The COP 21 Conference is currently making daily headlines in the media, with a large number of meetings taking place in Paris where businesses, NGOs and players in energy transition are working alongside the diplomatic negotiations taking place within the framework of the UN.
It is very fortunate that many companies are making an effort, and particularly that financial investors are making structuring decisions for the future, where some are not hesitating to divest from fossil fuels (Divest/Invest movement) and publicly announce it in order to highlight their commitment to the critical goal of slowing the acceleration of climate change caused by human activity.
Paradoxically, many businesses - or rather many Boards of Directors - have so far failed to adjust their operating models in order to include the fact that a transition to new sources of energy - a strategic matter for those businesses whose carbon emissions are highest - is effectively becoming a matter of governance. Indeed, shareholders are entitled to question the composition of their Boards of Directors and the competence of directors who have not seen or been able to impose strategic developments earlier in order to anticipate the necessary investments or divestments.
While on the one hand Lafarge has set an example for implementing a partnership with the WWF ten years ago, allowing the conservation group to verify the progress made by Lafarge in order to decrease its harmful emissions, on the other Volkswagen has demonstrated its Oversight Committee's inability to realise that internally-set objectives for growth were incompatible with the company's technical capacity for complying with current environmental regulations in the US and Europe.
These two extreme examples make it clear that Boards of Directors need to include these questions about energy transition and environmental impact in all of their decisions. They need to ask themselves whether they should call into question any activities that are currently being performed or developed, identify the current and future risks in relation to the development of regulations, and effectively take these risks into account as a strategic challenge.
From questioning a number of directors whose activities are not in themselves directly identified as the source of a climate challenge, it seems that they view these issues as a risk and not as a strategic challenge. They need to urgently acknowledge the fact that this represents a strategic challenge for every company, regardless of their business sector, and that innovation and investment are the only means of anticipating the market and product developments that will very soon take effect.
At the end of the 19th century, numerous businesses were closed or bought out because they weren't able to anticipate the industrial revolution. We have all had our eyes fixed on the digital revolution, however the issues linked to our climate are at least as important given the acceleration of climatic instability.
At the same time, we also need to anticipate the consequences of the financial - and purely financial - decisions taken 10/20 years ago by investors, management companies, banks, etc. even while environmental questions were being asked by numerous NGOs, but were not considered as falling under their responsibility.
Investors and financiers are waking up a little late... however it's never too late!
Olivier de Guerre