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Europe's Climate Action for People and Planet

European businesses need to move fast to tackle both climate change and social challenges

The pandemic has accelerated the pace of change. Now Europe needs a green deal that is also a social one, and businesses and digitalisation have a chance to link the two.

That was the message from Climate Action and a Just Transition, a panel of senior business leaders at the European SDG Summit 2021. The event took place weeks before the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, UK, considered by many as the last chance for meaningful commitments to address climate change.

Europe’s business leaders are mindful of the ambition of the European Commission’s net zero roadmap, the European Green Deal - “no person and no place left behind.” Training and reskilling the next generation of ICT professionals will be at the centre of efforts to balance the demands of people, profit and planet.

“During the pandemic we have been transported into the digital world,” said summit speaker Sapthagiri Chapalapalli, Head of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) in Europe. “Today, one of the key challenges is, how do we take our people along?”

The risks ahead

The recent spike in gas prices is focusing minds among Europe’s leaders on the need for a green energy transition, and potential pain for consumers.

The Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, warned greater challenges could lie ahead. “This is going to be a fundamental reshaping of our economies and societies. Because we need to learn to live within planetary boundaries, we need to do so at an incredibly high speed. Any change is going to lead to poverty if we're not careful.”

At a time when progress toward the UN SDGs is also in doubt, Sapthagiri Chapalapalli flagged another big risk for businesses - moving too slowly. “If we look at Europe, the speed at which we innovate needs to be rapidly enhanced. Large enterprises have put in a lot of effort to transform their business models, but that phase needs to be much faster.”

Technology for speed

Enablers of this step-change in pace will be AI-driven analytics and IoT, sensors linking tomorrow’s smart cities, utilities and vehicles via 5G. They are already having an impact on energy production.

The industrial sector consumes around 54% of the world’s total delivered energy, more than any other end-user. Emissions management systems such as TCS Clever Energy™ help enterprises to create centralized energy management frameworks, enabling real-time energy usage.

The oil and gas sector is also likely to embrace digitalisation in the years ahead as it seeks to improve efficiency and reduce emissions, while also supporting consumers and jobs. “The goal of zero carbon emissions must not come at the expense of access to affordable and reliable energy,” said Patrick Pouyanné, Chairman and CEO, TotalEnergies. “More than 50 million people in Europe live in fuel poverty.”

Stronger partnerships

Collaboration also remains a work in progress for Europe’s businesses. That’s the verdict of the European Sustainable Industry Barometer, an initiative developed by the CSR Institute and Moody’s to help contextualize UN and EU annual reports on SDG progress.

Strategic corporate approaches towards Sustainable Development Goals remain fragmented, while companies are separating into ‘laggards and leaders’ in their energy transitions.

TCS’s European phygital hub, TCS Pace Port™ Amsterdam, is a key plank of the company’s own efforts to help foster stronger connections. An innovation ecosystem, Pace Port aims to foster co-innovation on topics including 5G with a network connecting academia and businesses.

Patrick Pouyanné said TotalEnergies’ supplier development programme is also working to build closer working relationships with thousands of suppliers.

 

 

 

The next generation

There is also optimism that tackling global warming could support a just transition, with new jobs in green industries forecast at an estimated 250,000 in the UK alone. However, post pandemic, many industries are wrestling with more immediate concerns.

“We’re seeing a significant reconfiguration of supply chains of talent, of manufacturing and of production. That poses workforce challenges,” said Sapthagiri Chapalapalli.

To deliver on the potential of the green transition, Europe also faces a skills challenge. An ongoing response from TCS has been to put youth front and centre, running STEM skills projects in many schools and engaging universities on ICT topics.

“As a company we have more than 500,000 technology employees globally,” says Sapthagiri Chapalapalli. “We are very used to training and reskilling hundreds of 1000s of people every year. Now we’re using these methods to help our customers enable this transition of people for this digital world.”

Decision time

Ilham Kadri, CEO of Solvay and Co-chair of CSR Europe says that leaders need to address all these issues because the challenge facing Europe’s business leaders and policymakers is stark.

“We are the very last generation that has the luxury to make a choice, and take the right decisions for the planet, also our profits, and certainly for our people,” she said.

By prioritising innovation and partnerships, it’s possible that these three-Ps will not be in conflict.