The BBC Reith Lectures this year have been given by Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of England and one of the world’s most influential bankers. The final lecture in the series has the title: ‘From Climate Crisis to Real Prosperity’.
The general thrust of the lectures has been about how to ensure the economy delivers the things we really value, and how recent past failures in markets have delivered the credit crisis, covid crisis and climate crisis. He’s confident that lessons are being learnt, and on climate, he addresses how much big business and big government have changed over the last couple of years, as well as how much more there is to do.
The future remedies he outlines are mostly aimed at these big players and those who regulate them, and what matters is more who is saying these things than what he is saying.
But Mr Carney also outlines steps that all of us can take to help accelerate these big shifts and influence these big players. It is worth reproducing part of his lecture:
‘First, if you work for a company, find out whether it has a plan to transition to net zero. If so, great, how can it be made better? And if it doesn’t have a plan, why not? Does management think governments and people are bluffing with their net zero targets? Or do they consider the company separate from society?
Secondly, wherever you put your hard-earned savings, in a bank, a pension pot, or in the stock market, find out whether it’s been managed towards net zero. And if not, why not? Are the people investing your money missing out on major opportunities or are they taking unnecessary climate risks, or do they think that you just don’t care? If you care about the climate, make your money matter.
And third, ask not what the climate is doing to your country, but what your country can do for the climate. Does your country have a credible net zero plan? Does your government require large companies to disclose the impact of climate on their operations and must those companies have net zero plans? Do shareholders, ultimately you, have an automatic vote on these plans? In other words, a say on transition. Are banks planning for climate failure and do they know how they can contribute to climate success?
The power of Greta Thunberg’s message is how she drives home both the remorseless logic of climate physics and the fundamental unfairness of the climate crisis. And like many, I’m persuaded by the force of her argument and her demands for inter-generational justice.’
We don’t all work for big companies, or have savings or pensions, but we all vote and have bank accounts (or if we’re very young, will do so soon). So we can all influence these movers and shakers, and the evidence is that we’re getting through.
You don’t need to agree with Mark Carney, or be interested in economics to realise the impact lectures like this have. It’s impossible to imagine such a talk being given by a prominent banker even just two or three years ago. If you find yourself arguing about the environment with someone who thinks all this green stuff is bad for jobs and the economy, remember you have the ex-boss of the BoE on your side. Likewise, listening into this lecture, it was interesting to hear the challenging questions he faced from leading scientists and campaigners. The Reith Lectures are available for streaming on the BBC web site.