At COP26, world leaders assembled to agree on global emission targets by 2030, but many left disappointed by the slow pace and limited scale of diplomatic negotiations.
The Gustavson School of Business at UVic’s newly appointed executive in residence David Miller — a leading voice in promoting climate change solutions and Managing Director of International Diplomacy for the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group — was there and is optimistic about how businesses can provide solutions to environmental challenges.
“We can’t succeed in doing what we need to do to address climate change without the business sector being aligned,” says Miller.
Miller attended the COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November. He was struck by three significant takeaways. The first includes the sentiment, described above, that the speed and pace of negotiations were limited “primarily because unanimity is required.” Progress was made, he says, “but the science is very clear, we’ve got to have global emissions by 2030.”
His second takeaway was that mayors and city leaders are the ones showing leadership and significant commitment towards emissions reductions. Over 1,000 cities pledged to have clean-up action plans established far before the 2030 reduction goal.
“There was a real contrast between that kind of diplomacy and what’s happening in the real world,” says Miller who thinks that innovation at the city-level is a significant area for business innovation.
“Cities are continuing to be really innovative and at the cutting edge of policies and actions that dramatically lower carbon emissions,” says Miller. “Whether it’s in buildings, transportation, waste management or how we generate electricity — or find alternatives to it. That means smart business — paying attention to what’s happening in the urban sector should have all sorts of potential for success.”
At COP26 Miller found inspiration in an unlikely event, a discussion by the Institute of Structural Engineers whose conversation shone a light on what is possible in decarbonizing buildings.
“There were four engineers that sounded like Greta Thunberg,” says Miller. “I found that inspiring — it gave me some hope.”
Cities, says Miller, have to act fast to ensure “existing buildings perform better and new buildings are state of the art.” The built environment will play an important role towards becoming zero carbon or carbon positive. He cites the 15-minute city idea popularized by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
According to Miller, climate finance will be increasingly important to business development. Whatever the sector, the need to consider climate and carbon impacts is at the forefront. And with the financial world on board, in parts, there’s the “possibility to really accelerate what businesses are doing, including small local businesses, because climate finance will percolate through the economy.”
A forceful proponent for the next generation of sustainable jobs, Miller notably served as the Mayor of Toronto for two terms from 2003 to 2010 and is a past president and CEO of WWF Canada, the Canadian division of the International World Wildlife Fund.
Today, Miller is the Managing Director of International Diplomacy for the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the leading global network of cities committed to addressing climate change.
“I hope to bring that knowledge and experience to work with students,” says Miller. “I would expect from the interactions I’ve already had, they’re very keen to work on how business can be part of the solutions to these environmental challenges. I would hope my experience internationally and within Canada can help make their work more interesting and a little bit richer and more impactful.”
The Gustavson School’s already established history of putting sustainability front and center in business has made it a leader in what is now a highly sought-after approach which is still hard to find.
“I know there’s a huge thirst for this,” says Miller. “People want to work in ways that they’re living their values. I work in the area of cities, climates, economy, jobs and equity. We can’t succeed in doing what we need to do to address climate change without the business sector being realigned. And Gustafson can be instrumental in that. For me to be a small part of it is really exciting.”