Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s most successful businesswoman, sat down with reporters on the side-lines of the United Nations Climate Action Summit 2019 in New York to share her views on climate change and how businesses can help stop it.
She struck an upbeat tone: “That sense of urgency, I think I’ve never felt it as I felt today at least at forums like these, because these are forums that involve the world’s most influential businesspeople, politicians, and decision makers.”
“They are listening to what people are saying in the streets, because if you walk around the streets around New York, or London, Paris; any city whether it’s in South America, Asia, people are really concerned about the environment. It’s a big, big issue,” said dos Santos, who hails from Angola.
It is certainly a big issue for teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who blasted world leaders at the summit, asking: "For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away?"
Dos Santos thinks the tide is finally turning: “Now the business community, the influencers, the politicians are all saying ‘OK, what can we really do about it?’ I found that that’s a really, really good step forward.” She mentioned the trend toward electric cars and reduced plastic use as further positive indications.
“The climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement ahead of the summit. “This is not a climate talk summit. We have had enough talk. This is not a climate negotiation summit. You don’t negotiate with nature. This is a climate action summit.”
“Coalitions are here with partnerships and initiatives to move us closer to a resilient, carbon-neutral world by 2050,” he added.
Another UN statement doubled-down on the importance of the summit: “Global emissions are reaching record levels and show no sign of peaking. The last four years were the four hottest on record, and winter temperatures in the Arctic have risen by 3°C since 1990. Sea levels are rising, coral reefs are dying, and we are starting to see the life-threatening impact of climate change on health, through air pollution, heatwaves and risks to food security.”
The summit, held in New York on 23 September, aimed to ensure greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 45 per cent over the next decade, and net zero emissions by 2050 via “concrete, realistic plans.”
Looking out for the little guys
“Most of the biodiversity is actually in poor countries, is in countries that are in the southern part of the hemisphere,” dos Santos said. “These people have to take care of this biodiversity but who’s going to help them do that? And I think there is not enough being done, not enough thought put through on this.”
She said that linking trade and climate “can really be a little bit difficult for some countries that perhaps don’t have the level of investment necessary to adjust their industries as quickly as they should. And this is the question, who’s going to pay to upgrade those industries or change the equipment, or help. People who want to change but don’t necessarily have the financial means to do so.”
The UN’s statement following the summit responded to dos Santos’ widely shared concerns. It said that several developedcountries announced further contributions to the Green Climate Fund that helps developing countries counter climate change. A ‘Climate Investment Platform’ was also launched at the summit, and will seek to raise $1 trillion in clean energy investment by 2025 in 20 developing countries.
The results of the summit were certainly more action-focused than pure talk. France announced that it would not enter into any trade agreement with countries that have policies counter to the Paris Agreement, and Germany committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. China said it would cut emissions by over 12 billion tons annually, and Russia announced that it wouldratify the Paris Agreement.
The power of positive thinking
“For me business has to sustainable it has to make sense. Business just for the point of making money doesn’t make any sense at all,” dos Santos said. “I think business is something that has to better the community. Of course, if you create something unique then you will have value for it, but it has to meaningful. I think if you always look at finding meaning in business then that will translate into something really positive.I really hope that more businesses start thinking about that, instead of just thinking about the gain.”
Climate change is a hot topic in the dos Santos household, Isabel said: “I have teenage children, and I really noticed that they are very, very worried about the environment. It’s like the number one topic in the house, and they’re like: ‘What kind of planet are you guys going to leave us? You messed it all up you have to fix it.’”
“I think we are hearing the call and businesses are getting more and more aware of that,” said Isabel dos Santos, ending her comments in the same spirit as she started them, positively.