Interview with Connie Hedegaard
September 6, 2018
In many ways, one could call Connie Hedegaard the "First Lady of European climate action". Born in Denmark, Ms Hedegaard was elected as the youngest ever member of Danish Parliament and filled various positions in the government, serving as the Danish Minister for Environment until (2004-2007), then Danish Minister of Climate and Energy (2007-2009), before she was appointed as the Minister for The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen COP15 (2009) and the European Commissioner for Climate Action (2010 to 2014). Ms. Hedegaard has served as an inspiration for women and climate activists alike, and is one of the key figures behind many of the EU's policies regarding climate action such as the EU 2030 Climate and Energy Framework and the Roadmap for moving to a low-carbon economy in 2050. Very few people have had as profound an impact and influence on shaping European climate policy as Ms. Hedegaard. Currently, she is chairing a number of foundations and executive boards with climate action still very much remaining at the forefront of her agenda.
We decided to ask Connie a couple of questions about her views on the current status quo on climate policy - and we weren't disappointed.
You've previously spoken about how from a company perspective, sustainability is matter which should belong to the CEO and that CEOs should engage more with their respective governments on the subject. Given that governments are not on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals, and the vast majority of businesses have still a long way to go before they achieve a better balance between profitability and climate stewardship, are we perhaps expecting too much from the wrong people and how can we help to ensure that society is able to tackle the global environmental challenges that we collectively face?
It is positive that really many CEOs start to get the message: Climate, resource efficiency and sustainability is a need to have - and it does not work against having a healthy business. However, too many leaders are still in what I call the logo phase, where you say the right things, the chosen SDGs are printed on the company strategy or the letterhead, but the hard choices are not embedded in the real day-to-day business actions.
How to change that? I think the time has come to introduce more compulsory disclosure. What you choose to do and how you do it is up to you as a business leader. But that you start measuring and acting is crucial. And until we get the harder tools in place, I think that as consumers and active citizens we should use naming and shaming much more systematically. Here is a job for the NGOs and civil society. For a very long time we have been very patient and very polite. Now we must turn up the tools.
You once said that: “Some of these fossil fuel companies in Europe realise climate change policies are not going to disappear. The wisest ones understand they must diversify.” Yet it seems that many of these companies have a pretty broad definition of what it means to "diversify". On the one hand they publicly support the Paris Agreement and carbon tax, yet on the other hand many continue to fund climate science denier groups. What policies could be put in place to ensure that fossil fuel companies actually do the right thing?
Again, naming and shaming - making the double standards visible - is one tool. The EU targets for CO2 reduction, renewables and energy efficiency for 2030 is another more hard tool. So is the price on carbon that finally has reached a level (20+ Euros) where it starts to hurt to make the wrong choices. Now the fossil companies start to pay the price for not having diversified. And one thing that gives me great comfort is that the investor community starts to understand the risks of continuing to invest in fossil fuels.
When last December at President Macron’s climate summit celebrating the second anniversary for the Paris Agreement, the CEO of AXA, the world’s leading insurance company, in front of many heads of states and governments announced that they would now stop insuring coal activities, and when the Norwegian sovereign oil fund the very same day announced that they would now ask the government’s permission to divest not only from coal as was decided some years back but also from oil and gas, and when still more and more pension funds and banks start to change their investment strategies investing in alternatives to fossil fuels, well then things really start to change.
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