The presence of key CCOs from leading companies at the Page reception at COP28 reinforces the finding in the upcoming new Page research report that CCOs are more at the center of strategic discussions in the C-Suite than ever before. And the business presence at the United Nations event in Dubai was its highest ever.

In fact, although the decision-makers at the COP conferences are world government leaders, many of the actual decisions and investments needed to advance efforts to combat climate change must come from the private sector. And the scrutiny of business commitments to net zero carbon are only increasing.

The COP28 Presidency organized a Business and Philanthropy Climate Forum to “address key climate priorities related to the COP28 Action Agenda, which includes fast-tracking a just and orderly energy transition, fixing climate finance, putting nature, lives and livelihoods at the heart of climate action, and underpinning everything with full inclusivity.” This led to an agreement to raise “$5 billion in collective philanthropic, public and private funding to unlock long-term capital of $20 billion USD to advance climate and nature action.”

And business leaders have collaborated with NGOs and climate scientists with a letter organized by the B Team calling on the COP28 Presidency “to ensure that fossil fuel phase-out trajectories are put in place to help deliver the 1.5C ambition on the Paris Agreement.”

Because COP28 is being held in Dubai, there has been criticismof the involvement of oil countries and companies, but it should be obvious that there can be no solution to the carbon/climate problem without their full participation in discussions and debates. These are complicated issues, because it’s clear that fossil fuels are the problem, but it’s also clear that conversion to alternative energy sources will take time. The reports of an OPEC letter urging member countries to “reject any text or formula that targets energy i.e. fossil fuels rather than emissions” was not helpful.

There is also ongoing criticism of businesses’ climate pledges, and the U.N. itself has called for a crackdown on greenwashing. 

The recent Page CCO guide on “Stakeholder Capitalism and ESG” makes the case for a prominent role for the CCO in working to ensure that the organization puts in place solid policies and strategies to make its commitments real. It also notes that “transparency and authenticity are essential to building stakeholder trust,” and argues for businesses to hold themselves accountable on their efforts to meet their commitments. “Measurement and reporting represent an opportunity every enterprise should seize,” the guide said.

It's certainly appropriate for NGOs and news media to hold businesses accountable for their actions, but businesses have the opportunity and responsibility to hold themselves accountable by engaging in timely, accurate reporting, and by articulating plans to adjust goals and get back on track when they fall short. At the end of the day, what counts is results, not pledges or statements, and we, as communication leaders, have a responsibility to help our organizations align our actions with our intentions.

I’m grateful to Page Chair Brian Lott and Mubadala for hosting the Page event at COP28 in the Mubadala Pavilion in the Green Zone, and to Richard Mintz and FGS Global for sponsoring it. Brian’s interview at the event with Tim McDonnell, energy and climate editor of Semafor, shed light on many of these issues.