On Earth Day 2021, the HBS Business and Environment Initiative and the AMP199 Energy Circle co-hosted a conversation between Joan MacNaughton, Chair of the Climate Group and of the Advisory Board of the New Energy Coalition of Europe, and Professor Richard Vietor, Baker Foundation Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, about how governments, businesses, and society must act together—now—to cut global emissions in half by 2030 to keep temperature rises under 1.5°C and avoid the disastrous effects of climate change. The conversation was facilitated by Yulia Chekunaeva, a recent graduate from AMP199 and an executive at EN+ Group, the largest producer of low carbon aluminium.

MacNaughton started the session by providing an overview of the latest relevant policies, from the Paris Agreement to aspirations for G20 and COP-26 and the drastic, catastrophic implications of not meeting the 1.5 degree goal, as outlined by the IPCC. The talk coincided with President Biden’s announcement that the US has set a target to achieve a 50-52% reduction in GHG pollution (from 2005 levels), which MacNaughton lauded, yet emphasized the need for intense structural change from both governments and corporations to make these commitments possible. MacNaughton further emphasized that “while framework from government is important, in the end, it’s businesses who drive innovation, who offer the solutions, who create what consumers need. Net zero is not optional and businesses will be crucial in getting us there.”

Participants pressed for specifics about what actions businesses can take. Professor Vietor recognized that “the impacts are accumulating rapidly and it's time to really concentrate on adaptation” and expressed concerned that “that the poor are going to bear the burden of any effort to mitigate.” MacNaughton underscored the importance of transitioning to 100% renewable energy and improving energy productivity. McNaughton outlined the Climate Group’s four areas of focus in order to drive a target of global net zero emissions by 2050: energy, transport, built environment, and industry, with a core focus on systems with the highest emissions. MacNaughton noted: “Most of us expect to think of 2020 as ‘the year of COVID.’ But history may instead see it as the year when awareness of the existential threat posed by climate change reached unprecedented highs – such that the world started to turn the corner in delivering effective climate mitigation action.”

BEI strives to foster alumni engagement by offering a platform for discussions on critical environmental topics. Driven by her commitment to educate and engage alumni on the subject of climate change, Yulia Chekunaeva was inspired to “celebrate our planet by having an open dialogue with practical suggestions on specific actions we as business leaders and academics can take to prevent a climate emergency.” Through discussions like these, BEI and alumni such as Yulia hope to “increase awareness and bring wider HBS community engagement on the critical subject of climate change prevention.”