Coline Pavot

Discourses of Climate Delay


Before the plenary session of the fourth Earth Summit in Johannesburg on 2 September 2002, Jacques Chirac, then-President of France, spoke these words: “Our house is burning down and we’re blind to it. We cannot say that we did not know!” Twenty years after a speech whose echoes only grow louder, how many of us continue to live as if nothing were wrong, despite all the evidence? This cognitive dissonance at the core of our climate inaction exists at all levels of society. A look at our collective denial.


Doing our bit

Cambridge University[1] has identified the 12 most common excuses for climate inaction. For example, many citizens, a bit too eager to downplay their individual role, say that others – other countries, other governments, other businesses – have a much greater responsibility, so that they don’t have to take any action themselves. Yet every citizen can be part of the solution. Carbon 4[2] estimates that with a dozen eco-friendly actions, ranging from simply buying a reusable water bottle all the way to adopting a vegetarian diet, every citizen could shrink their carbon footprint by 25%. That’s not just a drop in the bucket. We know that every tonne of CO2 saved in the atmosphere counts, and that every European emits 6.8 of those tonnes, every year[3]. In addition to doing our bit in our everyday lives, our power as citizens is even greater when we start to vote with our wallets – encouraging companies to accelerate their transition, and bringing these issues into the voting booth with us.


The power of companies

Too many companies are also dodging the issue. Their standard argument is that their job is to meet the demand of consumers who don’t see climate issues as a central concern. Is that really the right strategy to pursue, when the latest reports from the IPCC find that the cost of climate inaction would be much higher than the cost of action, with some saying that it could be up to 30% of global GDP[4]?  Although businesses have a long history of showing their knack for creating new needs, now they must use their power of innovation to come up with goods and services that make a positive contribution to the fight against climate change, making the end consumer their ally.


And where does the State fit into this?

Faced with this emergency, we are right to ask what responsibility governments have. Are they incapable of stopping the machine, or reluctant to take forceful measures that might be unpopular in the short term? The answer is probably the second one, since history has already shown that decisive and coordinated action by governments could change the course of things. Adopting the Montreal Protocol in 1987, banning the use of ozone-depleting substances and placing strict controls on bluefin tuna fishing in the Mediterranean, had a meaningful impact. So even if some of the necessary measures could carry their share of individual constraints in the short term, it’s probably the lowest price to pay to protect our future on planet Earth.


What can we conclude from this? That we can only win the battle if we fight it on all fronts. As responsible investors, we have a key role to play in supporting and heightening this social movement. We have the duty to inform our customers so that they can direct their investments toward responsible companies, whose impact we can accelerate through engagement. The crises in our societies should not undermine our convictions. On the contrary, they should move us to help reverse the trend – together. The impact this generates, which we illustrate every year in a dedicated report, is the finest proof of our ability to change things if we work together.

[1] Discourses of climate delay, 2019
[2] Faire sa part, 2019
[3] Eurostat, 2019
[4] Les Echos, 2022