2021 has gone past in a blur. Working from home and lock downs have sometimes made it difficult to remember which year is which. And the frantic pace of change is unlikely to change. We face the challenge of the energy crisis and the associated surge in the cost of living. We must turn net zero into action and build resilience against current and future climate impacts. Pressures on biodiversity are growing; technology augurs excitement and trepidation. All await us in 2022.

Maxine Frerk returns from the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow and shares her reflections on the inter-generational challenge presented by climate change and on the importance of Sustainability First’s work in this space. 

It was clear from the time I have just spent on the fringes of COP26 how far climate change and how we tackle it is an inter-generational issue. 

Over the last couple of years, Ofwat, Ofgem and Defra have all been thinking hard about how to make decisions now which are faithful to the various potential pathways to the long term ends of net zero, climate adaptation, and biodiversity. As we have argued elsewhere, a Beis strategic policy statement to Ofgem would be a logical companion.

One element of a Just Transition is that the approach taken should be “fair” between current and future generations. To help us think about what this means in practice, Sustainability First commissioned Frontier Economics on a pro bono basis to provide a framework for analysing the issue of intergenerational equity; an issue that our previous work had indicated further research was needed in. The report, published today, provides a comprehensive review of the issue.

White noise… (mmmmmmmm)
Is it a machine working or someone humming? I zoom out of whatever I was thinking, and I realise a long time has passed.

In March last year I started a residency with Sustainability First at UK Power Networks. By then I wouldn't guess what was about to happen to the World. I still can't. During this period I have spent most of my time in the middle of electronic waste, sculptural materials, paint, canvases, and in white noise. This noise represents energy, something that is ‘ON’ and working.

The current lobbying scandal is shining a light on the interaction between business, politicians and the civil service. When the behaviour of public office holders fails to meet the high standards required, and individual interests are put before the public good, public trust in institutions and systems suffers. All sides can be tarnished and the social contract between citizens and rule makers can be eroded. A ‘one rule for us and another for them’ approach seldom ends well and does not create a healthy environment for individuals, and good businesses, to thrive. 

There is a growing recognition that a focus on corporate purpose can align government, company, investor and other stakeholder interests around long-term goals such as net zero and help ensure that these are delivered in a fair way.  On 30th March Sustainability First hosted its ‘Fairness in utilities’ conference to explore this issue and what the purpose agenda means for both companies and government in sectors such as energy, water and communications.