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Climate history — and the end of the beginning

Wednesday 26 May 2021 saw climate history in the making — but you’d be forgiven for missing the news. There were no official communiques, no fireworks, no spontaneous street parties. In fact, the announcement barely caused a ripple beyond the business pages.

What we did see was a court in the Hague rule that Royal Dutch Shell must reduce its carbon emissions by 45% to 2030. In Irving, Texas, climate conscious representatives were imposed on Exxon Mobil’s board. In San Ramon, California, Chevron shareholders voted for the company to accept significantly stricter emissions criteria.

Wednesday 26 May was the day that climate reality hit the fossil fuel industry — hard. As Churchill might have said, “Now this is not the end of big oil. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

As one door closes, another opens: just two days earlier, the UK government pledged £166 million to catalyse the UK’s climate tech sector. It is, perhaps, a demonstration of the power of global events such as COP 26 and the G7 — where increased visibility leads to tangible action.

Make a stand

While these announcements are positive, they’re also dangerous. It’s easy to focus our ire on the energy giants. It’s easy to think our government will solve the issue for us. It’s easy…but it’s wrong. We all have to make a stand.

As big polluters act and governments commit, it’s worth remembering that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) make up the vast majority of the economy. More than 6 million SMEs operate in the UK, employ nearly 17 million people and generate £2.3 trillion.

SMEs have two pivotal climate roles: innovating to develop new ways of working; and then committing to climate conscious operations. Milk & Honey is making its stand: innovating through our new ‘Purpose’ offering to help clients not just talk about climate change, but act on it; and committing to climate conscious operations by, for example, achieving plastic and carbon neutrality and supporting the grassroots Better Business Act.

The end of the beginning

Now, we have a unique opportunity to shape what comes next.

The often overlooked aspect of the fossil fuel hegemony has been the damage it causes to the environments and communities it touches. The climate emergency and social inequality are inextricably intertwined. As we reach “the end of the beginning” of big oil we can focus on an outcome that protects both people and planet.

Combining energy industry transformation (willing or not), government commitment, SME engagement and grassroots initiatives, we will bring change. In this decisive decade, we must scrutinise every action, but never fail to recognise the successes.

So let’s celebrate Wednesday 26 May 2021 — the day when climate history changed forever.

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