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UK CEOs have an opportunity to take a global lead on climate change

PwC PERSPECTIVE

Emma Cox
PwC UK’s sustainability and climate change leader

With COP26 taking place in Glasgow in November, the UK has an opportunity to take a leadership role in combating climate change. Our 24th Annual CEO Survey shows business leaders are prepared to do their part in helping the government prioritise climate change and make sustainability central to the country’s recovery.

UK CEOs are becoming increasingly concerned about climate change (up from 44% two years ago to 70% this year), as the impact on our world becomes too obvious to ignore. But climate change does not exist in isolation, and CEOs are aware of the interlinkages with other threats to their businesses. 

For example, business leaders are also concerned about policy uncertainty and increasing tax obligations – issues which become more acute as the government prioritises both climate change and the economic recovery following the pandemic. 

Time for climate action

Being alert to the risk is only one part of the equation. The more important aspect is how CEOs respond to the climate crisis. It’s encouraging that a majority of UK business leaders are planning to up their long-term investment in ESG and sustainability initiatives (60%), but it still comes some way behind more immediate business concerns such as digital transformation (77%) and improving cost efficiencies (71%). 

However, the focus on digital transformation could be beneficial in the fight against climate change, depending on what CEOs are trying to achieve. Seen in the context of a green recovery, transformation could create cleaner businesses that use digital tools to become more efficient and reduce their carbon footprint, while also ensuring they are fit for our future economy.

Our CEO Survey also found there is recognition that both the private and public sectors need to prioritise the creation of a skilled and adaptable workforce. This will help to support the government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, which is expected to create up to 250,000 jobs.

“Seen in the context of a green recovery, transformation could create cleaner businesses that use digital tools to become more efficient and reduce their carbon footprint, while also ensuring they are fit for our future economy.”

Green infrastructure

PwC analysis of decarbonisation in G20 economies shows the world needs to cut carbon intensity five times faster every year to reach its net zero emissions target. While the UK has done better than others in reducing its carbon emissions, it will need to keep investing heavily, to the tune of £400 billion in green infrastructure and renewable energy sources.

Private investment will be critical to achieving the required increases in infrastructure spending, particularly in power systems, buildings and industry, transport and digital. However, our CEO Survey reveals business leaders feel that providing adequate physical and digital infrastructure is a job for the government. 

The government needs to do more to create a clear vision and accompanying policy frameworks that encourage private infrastructure investment, which can help limit the impacts of climate change on society and the economy.

At PwC, we are determined to play our part in ensuring we make the most of this opportunity to help the UK create a greener future. It’s now up to CEOs to work with the government to turn their good intentions into a bold agenda for action.

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Marco Amitrano

Marco Amitrano

Head of Clients and Markets, PwC United Kingdom

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