We can be a global pioneer

Richard Digard’s column on Friday implied that Guernsey was helpless in the face of the looming climate crisis. Jennifer Strachan, co-lead of the Guernsey Chamber of Commerce Sustainable Business Initiative, argues that view is mistaken

RICHARD DIGARD’S recent article about climate change, ‘Now this is a crisis’, was right in that respect.

Every country, big or small, has its barriers to overcome to get there, but if Guernsey can’t do it, what hope is there for the less wealthy and agile jurisdictions?

Jennifer Strachan. (30198491)

Governments do have money, but their choices in what they do with public money are not set in stone. Will they carry on subsidising the fossil fuel industries, which create huge bills for the same governments to pick up in terms of health care, pollution and environmental degradation, or will they choose instead to invest in the kinds of clean energy and infrastructure that create economic and societal benefit?

I am hopeful that the States will make these kinds of pro-environment/pro-economy/pro-society decisions. Climate change has been prioritised in the Government Work Plan. It is in fact a fundamental facet of seven of the top 10 actions: housing, digital infrastructure, population, finance and tourism, regeneration, transport and health recovery.

Orkney (population 22,000) is already making international waves operating with carbon-free hydrogen ferries fed from its wind farm energy, so if that tiny community can be a global pioneer, so can we – and indeed in some respects we already are.

He is right that the money won’t all come from government, but happily Guernsey is a place which has a deep understanding of the infrastructure and players who will be putting new funds, new financing and innovative insurance structures together.

Guernsey Green Finance was set up a few years ago and benefits from having the world’s first Green Fund regime and more recently the world’s first ESG (environment, social and governance) framework for insurance, and as ESG expert Tom Rivett-Carnac pointed out, our waste strategy is used internationally as an example of what good looks like.

However, if we don’t have a holistic approach, the lack of authenticity will become a reputational risk and harm our claim to be a green and sustainable finance centre, particularly when other international finance centres are hot on our heels. Supporting our green finance sector means walking the walk with green domestic policies across the board – and there are many other good reasons why we should do that too.

There are a few 000s missing in Mr Digard’s carbon figures. The island actually released more than 400,000 metric tonnes of CO2 directly into the already overloaded atmosphere, according to the most recent data: a lot less trivial than the 400 tonnes figure he used.

But that’s just our direct emissions – a small fraction of the emissions that Guernsey people are in reality responsible for. China’s figures are so high because the world, including Guernsey, has outsourced much of its manufacturing emissions to them. We have no right to talk about China doing their bit if we’re not prepared to acknowledge the role of our demand in their emissions. All the stuff we buy uses (often finite) primary resources and generates emissions at every single stage of its production and transportation, so reducing the amount we consume reduces our considerable indirect emissions.

The Guernsey Chamber of Commerce Sustainable Business Initiative hears from many businesses that are leading the way in understanding and reducing their own carbon footprint. This is evidenced by the long list of local firms that have signed up to the ESI Monitor scheme, and the number of companies that have joined the Guernsey Green Forum, set up by local business leaders to share best practice in reducing their corporate emissions and improving sustainability.

The 2020 results of our annual sustainability survey of local businesses showed 84% of the 160 respondents believe environmental sustainability is very or somewhat important to them. But that is not to say everyone has the resources to take on this complex area. That is why at SBI we offer seminars and resources to help local businesses find their way through in a pragmatic, proportionate way.

While I wanted to respond to the article from a business perspective, there is one very important issue that must be included: our island’s youth. As companies are rapidly finding out, no one wants to work for a polluter, and our youth will not want to stay in an island that has thrown up its hands and stands by when we have a multitude of levers to make a real difference. Nor will we be able to attract new staff if there are more enlightened places to work and more sustainable business models to join.

The cost and the risks of not doing anything are significant. If we don’t make our best efforts and seize the opportunities in our grasp, we risk having an island no tourist will want to visit and no youth want to remain in, its finance sector withering on its once-green vine.

I would challenge Mr Digard’s view that we cannot make a difference and that our journey is going to be ‘particularly unpleasant’. Without exception, businesspeople we meet are willingly and fruitfully tackling climate change, and some are already reaping the economic rewards of doing so.

We would welcome any Guernsey business that feels daunted by the climate crisis. Our lunchtime event, Your Business’s Path to Net Zero (being broadcast online to meet the heavy demand), is scheduled together with many events we are planning for 2022 to help local businesses understand, plan and execute their own approach to helping Guernsey become net zero by 2050.

  • For further information on Business Path to Net Zero, go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/your-businesss-path-to-net-zero-online-tickets-now-available-tickets-199127655177.

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