Climate change is probably the most important challenge for society today. The Hughes Hall Centre for Climate Change Engagement was established to increase awareness on the boards of private companies and to inform them of the need for urgent action.
Climate change is one of the most important challenges of this century. Its effects are already reaching key thresholds that will adversely impact upon sustainable development. The need for education and action for climate mitigation, adaptation and finance has never been more urgent; individual citizens, private corporations, non-governmental organisations and governments all have a role to play. However, awareness of climate change and particularly of how individual businesses and public bodies can contribute to mitigation and adaptation is low. Active dialogue between stakeholders, governments and business is crucial as, without some shared perspectives, action is likely to be too slow.
This situation is especially acute within the boardrooms of private companies. Chairs, non-executive directors and board members in general, have (with few exceptions) not yet engaged sufficiently with the climate agenda. Recent surveys demonstrate that many boards have not given it the priority that it deserves, and some have not discussed it at all. Although the UK’s share of worldwide emissions is small, and reducing, UK business has a global reach through its supply chains and provision of capital and can have a far more significant impact in terms of tackling climate change. The financial sector, banks and investors, are equally crucial. They, with company boards, must address these issues in a comprehensive fashion to bring benefits to their own businesses and shareholders and to allow them to contribute to a growing green economy. A major part of our work so far has been acting as the catalyst and key sponsor for the development of a network of non-executive directors of UK listed businesses, as part of the World Economic Forum Climate Governance Initiative. This network, Chapter Zero, is for Chairs, Committee Chairs and Non-Executive Directors who are interested in accessing high quality research and practical tools on climate change, as well as sharing the best practice Board-level response. Click here for more information.
Recent scientific reports indicate that massive change is needed if we are to have any chance of reducing emissions to the extent needed to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown. Business action within the next decade, well within the long-term planning horizon of most large companies, is vital to the achievement of these changes.
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The central mission of the Hughes Hall Study Centre on Climate Change is to rectify this lack of engagement. It will
The general focus of the Centre will be on how levers may best be used to get the boards of corporate organisations to accelerate action. The emphasis will be on the role of law and regulation, of reporting requirements for corporations, and of how the financial sector including banks and investors might be used to exert influence on corporations. Research will allow a better understanding of the proper balance between the use of “sticks” and “carrots” as levers; and between techniques of persuasion using insights of marketing and psychology. Our interaction with climate science will go beyond the decarbonisation agenda and will seek to establish the role that companies might play using other forms of climate mitigation and adaptation.
The research element of the Centre will encourage scholarship in law and in other fields such as psychology, marketing, economics, finance and management. Legal studies could include aspects of company law, such as the fiduciary duties of directors and investors; finance and investment law; consumer protection law; competition law; the role of insurers; regulations that govern the financial reports of companies; and other incentive structures for corporate boards. The Centre will also enable PhD and post-doctoral researchers interested in climate change to advance their academic objectives by engaging with the Centre.
The College with its convening power will provide an environment where academics and the world of commerce can exchange views, and where a new generation of leaders and graduate students can together develop and scale up innovative solutions to the problem. The Centre will seek to act as an independent and trusted intermediary between Cambridge academia, the corporate and financial communities and government, drawing on a wide range of disciplines alongside climate science and law. The focus of the Centre will be on non-executive Directors. It will pay particular regard to the influence that banking, investment and regulation might have on the behaviour of companies. It will provide general guidance and toolkits that might be of assistance to boards and non-executive directors, but it will explicitly not seek to provide consultancy services or direct educational activity; nor will it directly attempt to influence consumer behaviour apart from acknowledging its importance in climate mitigation and adaptation.
Companies will, through board leadership, increase their actions to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change by addressing their own individual risks and liabilities; to shape future regulatory frameworks; and to participate in a growing global green economy.
Academia will increase its research impact by informing changes in legal, regulatory and other systems to support climate mitigation and adaptation, and by translating insights to enable businesses to contribute more effectively to the sustainable development agenda.
The College will as part of its Bridge project have a platform to facilitate the participation of graduate students, senior members and alumni, and thus engage the next generation of academics and business leaders in taking action on climate.