In our recent Virtual Business Week, sponsored by Huawei, Martin Xu, president of global government affairs, explained how one big lesson from the pandemic is the importance of collaborative action to tackle climate change
Despite the postponement of the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow to November 21 due to Covid-19, many leading companies want to ensure that momentum on the climate agenda for business does not stall.
During Reuters Events recent Virtual Business Week event, Martin Xu, president of global government affairs, Huawei, spoke to Liam Dowd, managing director - sustainable business at Reuters Events, about how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted his company's environmental ambitions and how companies can work together to ensure a green recovery post Covid-19. You can view the interview below:
In a webinar on increasing climate action and investment post-covid-19, also sponsored by Huawei, Edward Zhou, vice president for global public affairs at the Chinese tech giant, stressed how technological solutions could help businesses decouple greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from production were being developed.
Zhou pointed to edge computing, artificial intelligence-enabled analytics and cloud technology, which he said could work in combination to reduce energy consumption, and the need for office space and business travel. Predictive analytics and intelligent automated management of the movement of vehicles, people and goods could enable a more efficient, just-in-time supply chain, he added.
For example, a Shanghai gas company last year replaced a car and three-man inspection team with unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with 5G and 4K cameras to carry out monthly inspections of its 80km of gas pipelines. This took two hours instead of 12, and reduced GHGs by 39%, he said.
But to ensure that ICT innovations such as these break through into the mainstream, stronger and broader global collaboration is needed, Zhou said. “To fasten implementation of frontier technology we need more companies working together, with government and policy makers from different industries and countries. Then the benefits of the technologies can be more widely amplified,” he said.
It’s an evolution, we can’t do it overnight. It’s the circular economy, but it’s also collaboration and communication
This collaboration needed to be between different industries, not just technology providers, but also transport and mobility, in order to develop solutions, he said.
Other speakers in the hour-long webinar, which can be viewed below, agreed. Richard Ellis, vice president of corporate social at Walgreens Boots Alliance, gave the example of the need to work with supply chains, such as its initiative with GlaxoSmithKline on the recycling of asthma inhalers.
“It’s expensive. But if we can ensure they have sufficient quantity to make it worth the while to recycle in terms of costs, everyone wins,” he said.
However, Ellis acknowledged that businesses need to do a much better job of explaining to the public why these kinds of projects are necessary.
“It’s an evolution, we can’t do it overnight,” he said. “It’s the circular economy, but it’s also collaboration and communication. These things will enable us to change public opinion and make a difference,” he said.
Antonia Gawel, head of innovation and the circular economy at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Centre for Global Public Goods, said it was time to look for solutions in unconventional places.
“There tends to be a ‘governments and business will solve this’ mantra, but actually there’s an incredible amount of innovation and disruption happening through entrepreneurs,” she said.
The WEF has launched a programme called “Uplift”, which is looking at how to create an opensource platform for ideas for solutions to challenges that have been sought for decades. “What we’ve been doing before isn’t working, the message isn’t cutting through. So how can we find ways of engaging, supporting and uplifting a lot of the innovative solutions that are out there to be able to achieve the targets?” she said.
Governments have an important role to bring in supportive policies, regulations and incentives and corporate target-setting is also needed, Gawel said. But the focus should be on solutions. “I’m not convinced they’ll come from the traditional places because it hasn’t happened up to now.”
I think climate change has the potential to be even more devastating than Covid-19, but we have it within our grasp to do something about it
Responding to the pandemic and climate change must be done in tandem, rather than thinking that dealing with the climate emergency will derail the response to Covid-19, Gawel said.
“We need to address, first and foremost, the immediate concerns of Covid, and we need to do so in a way that continues to keep these medium longer-term objectives on course,” she said.
The European Green Deal package is a good example of this, because it has both the climate and circular economy agendas at its heart. “There’s been quite a lot of business backing for that, so it’s important to note that this isn’t just the government saying what it wants to do,” she said.
Ellis said that businesses and governments have been too short -term in their thinking to deal with climate change. They should instead take lessons from the military, which plans for wars they hope will never happen.
“Covid-19 is a wake-up call, it shows us what a real crisis is. I think climate change has the potential to be even more devastating but we do have it within our grasp as a human race to do something about it,” Ellis said.