Leadership and Climate Change

With the recently concluded UN Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow and the 1st Annual Caribbean ESG and Climate Financing Summit (which took place virtually) earlier in November, there has been a much-needed rejuvenation in the discussion on Climate Change and an almost commensurate increase in the calls for more action from the world’s leaders, across various disciplines and industries, and their people.

Some have even gone so far as to say that all of this is grossly overdue as the world seemingly barrels headlong into an insurmountable environmental crisis, and time is quickly running out if we are to reverse that course and, quite literally, save ourselves, our world, and our future.

While events like COP26 provide both means and encouragement, more than that is needed, especially given the fact that the leaders of the world’s richer nations have not been able to fulfil their $100 billion commitment to annual climate funding promised to developing and at-risk nations. Similarly, they have also not been able to agree upon a universal approach to our more immediate problems – widespread agricultural and meteorological disruptions that have led to economic hardships, extensive property and land damage, and worst of all, the deaths of millions.

Have our leaders failed us? Has leadership failed if it cannot even agree on a middle ground when it comes to our very existence?

Even as the struggle is on to close the 1.5 C gap, it is clear that what will put success within reach is decisive leadership and action.

However, the issue of leading the fight to curtail climate change – ice melt, global and oceanic warming, ocean acidification, and rising sea levels, just to name a few – cannot rest solely in the shoulders of the world’s leaders (although they most certainly are key in creating and implementing the necessary policies).

As leaders within our own right, we too have a stake in this movement. The lessons that have come out of COP26 and Caribbean ESG and Climate Finance Summit can serve us well as we adjust and readjust our unique leadership styles to function better in a time of tremendous challenge, adversity, and yes, opportunity.

Leadership With Intent
The science is clear. Climate Change is real. It threatens the lives of every living organism on planet Earth if left unchecked. Fortunately, we know what must be done. We have the means, the measures, and the technologies to achieve our goals.

What we do not have is time to hesitate. What we can take away from COP26, especially, is that a proper framework, or plan of attack, is the first, more crucial step. Similarly, a lack thereof, or a failure to agree upon one will have you going nowhere fast.

I’m reminded of the Sun Tzu quote “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” So yes, while having a plan is important, I want to suggest that our intentions behind the plan, or the reasons why we are executing the plan are just as, if not more important...under the right circumstance.

We may not always be able to agree on a catch all plan or approach to a problem, however, a leader’s main task is to infuse that sense of urgency within the team; to get everyone on the same page as it pertains to what must be done. And then, quite simple, to get it done!

Time is always against us. And we don’t always have the luxury of on boarding every single team member. This is when leaders are called upon to make the tough calls and very often, those tough calls have to be made quickly and decisively. Even when we are at the planning stage, the intent we have as leaders must resonate in the steps and decisions made. At every step of the way.

In other words, the “Why” of what we do must always be in the same conversation as the “What” and the “How” of it. With every environmental summit and meeting, and at every juncture, leaders are being challenged (and must challenge themselves) to declare their intent and commitment to the common good. Making good on the declaration involves leaders making the difficult calls because that is what it is about; making hard choices and setting new directions.

It is about vision and will—the ability to see ahead to what we must do, communicate it, and not be afraid to force the pace of change.

If leaders don’t or can’t make a decision, one will be made for them…and often, it is one they won’t like.

Leadership by Example
As a leader, it must never be enough to just pledge one’s support. Through our actions, we not only embody the spirit of what we are saying, we openly demonstrate to (and hopefully, inspire) others to become involved.

When Republic Bank became a signatory to the Global Principles for Responsible Banking in September 2020, the only signatory in the English-speaking Caribbean, , and a Founding member of the Net-Zero Banking Alliance, I might add, we openly committed through intent and action toward combatting climate change.

As part of that commitment, given the adverse impact of climate change on the Caribbean and our dependency on fossil fuels, we identified specific energy and climate goals as priority areas, wholeheartedly believing that the most direct, impactful and measurable contribution that we could make would be in the form of a financing commitment or lending goals across the Group.

Our strategy is simple: develop responsible and innovative bank product offerings to meet the environmentally-focussed needs of the Caribbean. Then we set ourselves measurable goals in pursuit of our objectives and gave ourselves targets to hit.

One such goal, the Climate Finance Goal, sets us on a path to lend, invest and arrange US $200 million toward activities that reduce the impacts of climate change and create environmental solutions in collaboration with our clients by 2025.

Working with various communities, we set our sights on increasing the proportion of (a) electric and hybrid car loans, (b) loans linked to promotion of clean fuels, renewable energy use and technology, (c) loans contributing to an improvement in energy efficiency and (e) new construction loans that deploy climate resilient technology.

The proposed US $200 million commitment aligns with our optimal risk appetite by directing capital towards environment, renewable energy, green initiatives, blue economy and socially focused projects.

Across the entire Group, we have also committed to, and begun the process of, converting all our new buildings to be built in accordance with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification. Additionally, we continue to roll out upgrades to our existing buildings, making them more environmentally friendly and energy efficient.

While this are just two examples, I believe the message is clear: Leading the way often requires adapting what you do to better suit your environment and better serve the greater good.

You can’t just talk the talk. You have to walk it.

Leading by Compassion
I have often praised the benefits of compassionate leadership. And here is no exception. With our fragile planet inching closer to the tipping point, whole ecosystems hang in the balance and complex systems that support millions of lives face significant disruption. If climate change is disruptive, getting people to change their mindsets and behaviours about it may be even more so.

We face a grave scenario where, as environmental impacts continue to grow in both scale and frequency, these effects are felt most acutely by those least able to cope and those least responsible for the problem. On a micro level, even with society, the people most affected by climate change are the ones least able to protect themselves, on the one hand, and rebuild their lives on the other.

This is beyond an environmental problem. It is a moral one. As leaders, committed to fight against climate change, our responses must be guided by the principles of common responsibility and the common good. This calls for a compassionate approach to how we lead.

For example, coming back to what the Republic Group has committed to achieve, financing sustainable business has strong financial as well as broader societal benefits, which is why sustainable finance continues to gain traction. However, it will take the collective strength of government, businesses, and the financial sector working together to support the shift to a sustainable economy because the fact remains that any vision of success has at its heart the need to support our customers and each other in the transition to a low-carbon economy. We all need to work together; lean in to support each other, not compete. Collaboration, partnership, and coordination of efforts are vital. This is not an issue that can be solved on its own by the banks themselves, or solely by the public sector, or through regulation. The leadership style that is best adapted to the present realities, which takes into account the considerations of the people we lead, is the one that will thrive best in this era.

It is going to take all of us to save all of us.

The World of Tomorrow Today
Lead with intent. Lead by example. Lead by listening. These are just a few of the lessons that came out of the COP26 and the Annual ESG Caribbean and Climate Finance Summit.

While there are more that can be discussed, I would like to know what your thoughts are. Not only on the two events but also on issue of climate change and the increasing responsibility of leaders to do “the right thing.”

We may not agree on leadership styles or approaches, but, as we have all seen, the science is clear, the danger is grave, and the time to act is now. Climate change is not the responsibility of any one particular group. It’s not solely a problem for a past generation to solve, nor should we pass the buck to future generations to try to solve.

If the leaders of today continue to kick that proverbial can down the road, we may very well end up kicking the bucket.

How are you leading the charge for a sustainable future? Let us know.

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