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Paul Polman addresses the Abu Dhabi Ascent meeting


We are at a tipping point where political leadership and business must work together to address system level challenges, like climate change, which are beyond the power of any one actor to fix alone, said CEO Paul Polman in his keynote address.

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A new set of challenges, a new cadre of leaders

“Businesses are starting to recognise, for the first time, that the cost of inaction is now greater than the cost of action. Today business has a new set of challenges, a new cadre of leaders and a deep desire to contribute meaningful solutions,” he said.

Paul pointed out that new coalitions are rapidly forming. The Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change now has over 1000 companies participating in over 60 countries. The United Nations Global Compact has 9,000 members. The Carbon Disclosure project is supported by 722 institutional investors and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development has a global network of over 35,000 businesses.

“This is no longer about isolated examples or case studies, pilots or pet projects. It’s about a new wave of investment that we could realise if we want to. It’s not about philanthropy. It’s about future-proofing growth. We now need to scale all these initiatives.

“That’s why the newest coalition that brings many of these groups together is simply called ‘We Mean Business'. Nothing could showcase this better than the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Action 2020 platform. A whole suite of ready–to-go business solutions,” Paul said.

Clarity, Confidence and Courage

Paul questioned that if climate action is so good for business, why isn’t that point of view made more loudly or more forcefully by CEOs. He believes it’s not because of any lack of appetite for action, or lack of understanding of the seriousness of the issue.

“It’s simply that CEOs prefer to work on specific tangible projects with real accountability, action and results. They are less versed in the broad framework discussions.

“Business people like to keep it simple. So let me try to do that. Business needs three things from the political community: clarity, confidence, and perhaps most of all, courage. The more of these that the global business community can see, the greater and more transformational will be the business response.”

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