Sky chief Jeremy Darroch: Businesses and governments must stop playing ‘game of numbers’ on climate

Attendees included chief executives

Speaking at the broadcaster’s pre-COP26 dinner event at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on Thursday (21 October), Darroch addressed a room full of business decision-makers and politicians, encouraging them to share in his “cautious optimism” for the crucial climate talks. Sky is notably the Principal Media Partner for COP26.

Darroch said he is “optimistic because there is no longer a fundamental debate – the focus is on the need for concerted action, and the stars are increasingly aligned for that transition to really start happening at pace. Cautious, because, of course, it’s hugely difficult. The headwinds are daunting and, at times, it can seem overwhelming. And leadership in government and business has sometimes left us wanting.”

He said: “There’s a sense, I think, at least in principle, that the time for talk is over and the time for action to tackle global warming is really now.

“The only questions it seems we have to ask is how bold are we all prepared to be and how soon are we prepared to act.

“Now, I’m not a pessimist about this and I want to be a cautious optimist, encouraged by signs of a sea-change in the quality of the discussion. The age of debate about the existence of man-made climate change has given way to a broad consensus. Residual scepticism about its potential impact on our physical environment has now been replaced with a near-universal weight that its early effects are upon us and, indeed, all around us. Whether it’s wildfires in California and Greece; floods in Germany and China or rising sea levels everywhere, few parts of the globe have not seen increased exposure to physical risk as a result of rising global temperatures.

“We know extreme weather events will multiply and intensify in the coming years and decades; there is now scientific certainty, it is a foregone conclusion.

“And beyond that, the idea is beginning to root that something even worse lies around the corner – dangerous feedback loops that could send our climate spinning out of control.”

“For me, this is why the climate agenda now seems so hardwired into the global agenda in the way I don’t think it was, even a couple of years ago. Increasing numbers of companies, investors and national governments are committing to… net-zero by the mid-century or even sooner.

“And yet, commitments are, of course, cheaper than actions. We’re yet to see anything like the scale or scope of actions needed to stop the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere….  as leaders, we have to be prepared not only to take bold action to fulfil promises already made, but that we have to hold our nerve as the unintended consequences of those actions play out.

“It seems, to me, that COP26 is such a big, crucial gathering where we need to hear answers to difficult questions. In the six years since the Paris Accord, governments and businesses have been brought face-to-face with the nature of the climate threat and the scale of what needs to be done to confront it. They realise that there is time to avert the disaster but not that much time; they know they have to start not in 2050, not in 2030 but in the coming weeks and months. Citizens are now telling governments they expect it. Shareholders are now telling businesses they expect it. And more insistently still, our childrens’ generation are telling us what they expect. They will judge each and every one of us by our agency and urgency – by what we did to save the planet when there was still time.

“Governments, I think, need to start using all of their powers and levers to lead their countries through this transition. With focused leadership, sustainability could become the golden thread that links government policies and draws them into a new direction. It can create new industries, as we know, and quality jobs that are much-needed. It can support the levelling-up agenda. Governments should support new industries, provide real assistance to them, and help the activities unfortunately stranded by the transition.

“More the point, they should lean hard on business and create the incentives that encourage it to deliver. That is, after all, what business is when you strip it down to its essence – a customer and profit-driven delivery machinery. Business leaders, too, need to show real leadership and I think, in the past, many have been too equivocal. Now is the time to raise our ambitions; to clean our own houses by reducing emissions, by tackling hard decisions and not just picking the low-hanging fruit of carbon offsetting.

“This is no longer a game of numbers, or greenwashing, or pass the parcel. It’s about achieving fundamental and sustained change in how businesses operate – investing in the future, not clinging to the past. By the way, fundamentally believe that’s what shareholders expect, even if it means a short term spike in capex or a momentary dip in profits.

“Has there ever been a better time for governments and businesses to invest in future growth than right now? With the world recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, governments are taking a newly proactive role in economies with interest rates at historic lows, markets flushed with capital in search of returns. It seems that sustainability, too, could be a potential golden thread for public and private investment.

“I can only conclude that there is quite literally no time like the present. Carpe diem. For business and government, COP26 and its aftermath are a great opportunity to establish both agency and urgency.”

Darroch announced in January that he will be stepping down from his position at Sky after more than 14 years. He will officially leave the post next month and be succeeded by Comcast’s current president of consumer services Dana Strong.

During his time at Sky, Darroch has overseen the development of the broadcaster’s commitment to reach net-zero by 2030 and its Ocean Rescue campaign, which entailed changes to decrease plastics use internally and digital communications campaigns encouraging others to follow suit.

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Sarah George

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