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10th anniversary interview: Mark Kenber, CEO, The Climate Group

17 April 2014
10th anniversary interview: Mark Kenber, CEO, The Climate Group

LONDON: On the eve of The Climate Group's 10th anniversary event in London on April 28, our CEO Mark Kenber looks back at some of the organization's successes, as well as our future priorities to renew ambition on building a low carbon future. You can also join a live Twitter Q&A with Mark on April 24.

What were the origins of The Climate Group?

In the immediate period before we came into being, the conversation around climate was about how acting to curb emissions would be difficult and costly, that it could hit jobs and businesses and so on. Despite this, there were a number of cities, state governments and businesses around the world who were not only making progress in cutting emissions but who actually saw a positive business case for doing so. They were saving money. They were becoming more competitive. They were creating jobs and the were creating better products and services. But they were disconnected from one another There was a need to bring them together, to show the wider business and policymaking community that reducing emissions was both feasible - and desirable. Leaders were already innovating and succeeding, we just needed to give them the platform they needed to inspire others.

How did the idea for The Climate Group then emerge?

The Climate Group emerged as a coalition of this new wave of leaders from the business world and from sub-national and national governments. We were transforming the conversation into a mainstream one for boardroom and cabinet discussions, and being a standard-bearer of a ‘can-do’ conversation around climate action and the low carbon economy. People in leadership positions began talking about how this could be good for business and society from a position of strength. Early reports from The Climate Group such as Carbon Down, Profits Up were a real shot in the arm for these leaders. They showed not only that climate leadership and innovation was possible, but that people were already acting – and benefitting. One very senior negotiator at climate talks even carried a copy of the first of these reports with her in her handbag to brandish at those who denied the case for ambitious action to cut emissions.

What would you say have been your biggest achievements?

Some of our best work has been behind the scenes – high-level leadership roundtables, sharing best practices between governments and businesses for instance – while other successes have been in the full glare of publicity. Getting the AB32 bill passed in California was a big moment. This was the first time a major government (California accounts for 3% of global GDP) was proposing to enact serious long-term measures and targets to reduce emissions. There was a substantial section of the business community that was worried about the bill, yet we convened an event at Long Beach at BP’s refinery with some of the world’s top government and business leaders to show a unified front in support for the bill. It was a ‘flash mob’ of world leaders at the highest level saying this would be good for the economy. It changed the argument completely. It was – and is - an example of The Climate Group at its best.

"Success has many parents. Our achievements are the result of the leadership, innovation and collaboration of our partners."

In the UK we helped get the Climate Change Bill passed too – the first sovereign state to pass such legislation. We also convened the Montreal Declaration by state and regional governments. Our global network of sub-national government members, and the public-private partnerships around them that have piloted new policies and technologies, is seen as another of our big successes.

We have incubated a number of initiatives that are today successful organizations and programs in their own right. For instance, we worked closely with the Ken Livingstone and Nicky Gavron at the GLA to get the C8 and then the C20 going, which has now gone on to become the C40 Cities Network. The Verified Carbon Standard, the world’s largest voluntary carbon market system, was also created by The Climate Group and is now a successful independent business group.

Our role as an incubator of ideas and systems that can be replicated and scaled up is central to our philosophy. We pride ourselves on taking risks, working in partnership and being politically neutral – probably our greatest achievement is winning the trust of so many important leadership figures and institutions. This has created real momentum, and visible progress, in making a thriving clean economy something that is within reach.

The Climate Group is said to have changed the narrative on climate. Would you agree?

Some of our thought leadership has profoundly influenced business thinking and planning. Our Carbon Down, Profits Up research made a powerful, evidence-based business case for seizing the opportunity in new low carbon markets, products and sectors. The SMART2020 report showed the clear economic - as well as carbon - benefits from adopting ‘smart’ ICT. Some of the world’s biggest and best-known companies set bold targets for carbon emission reductions as a direct result of that report. And our reports on LED street lighting – based on systematic trials - have paved the way for cities around the world to save money, conserve energy and cut emissions whole providing better public services.

But this is just one part of what we do. Equally important is the work of convening leaders, curating opportunities to connect leaders with their peers and inspiring them to become low carbon leaders; likewise our work with partners in business and government to pilot solutions which can be scaled up and replicated into viable technologies, finance mechanisms, policy frameworks and so on. The narrative changes the parameters, while our programmes turn this into practical ways to build growth and prosperity.


Engagement in China has always been a central part of The Climate Group’s strategy. Why?

Our work has traditionally focused on China, the US, India and Europe, and increasingly to other emerging regions too. In China, we put the phrase ‘low carbon economy’ on the map, and have worked closely with the government there on developing its green industrialization and ‘eco-civilization’ strategy, including through our input into the 12th Five-Year Plan and climate finance policy; we've helped shape the city of Guiyang's clean energy strategy. We’re helping many cities change the face of urban development – for example through ground-breaking work around cement and recycling construction waste – and we’ve established partnerships with leading solar and other industries. Our work in China is seen globally as being one of our greatest assets.

China’s ongoing development is going to determine much in relation to the global economy and future emissions. There is extraordinary leadership coming out of China, and there are also some extraordinary opportunities for US-China collaboration which we are seeking to promote. This could be critical to the outcome of any global climate agreement, as well as the development of a thriving clean economy.


The Climate Group has been pushing hard around LED technology. Why?

Driving innovation – whether it be in energy, technology, infrastructure, finance mechanisms or regulatory frameworks - is a core component of The Climate Group’s work. Our pioneering work on innovative new technologies, in particular our work on LEDs with Philips, has had a big impact. Major global cities such as New York City, Sydney and Calcutta are now adopting LED lighting, and their leadership is in turn accelerating the transition to this technology across the globe.

Beyond LEDs we have also carried out important work with electric vehicles work in London and Quebec, as well as innovative business models with leading companies. And we will continue to focus on exciting areas such as LEDs, specifically as we believe there is an undeniable case for an international standard which stipulates that all public lighting be either LED or as efficient as LED by 2020, and that this has benefits from a carbon perspective as well as improves quality of life for communities. We have actually just launched a new phase of our LED work to encourage faster adoption of this ‘no-brainer’ technology in street lighting globally.


How would you characterize The Climate Group today?

The Climate Group is recognized as a trusted partner by policymakers and business people. We’ve worked very hard to build that level of trust and confidence, and to build our global network of leaders. The result is that we have helped deliver real emissions reductions, and helped make businesses and markets smarter, more resilient and more profitable. We have increased value in the supply chain.

Key to all this is recognizing that success has many parents. Every one of our achievements is the result of the leadership, innovation and collaboration of our members, partners, supporters and donors. Partnership working isn’t an add-on for The Climate Group, it is a core value we live and breathe every day.   

"Our goal is to drive a clean industrial revolution that builds a strong low carbon economy."


The world has changed since The Climate Group was founded. What are its priorities today?

The world has indeed changed a great deal in 10 years. China is the biggest emitter and will soon be the biggest economy. Global economic growth is largely being driven by emerging economies. The world’s geo-political centre has shifted - the grand power bargains to deliver agreement at international level don’t work anymore, the world is a much more complex place. Transnational climate change governance – which we have been at the heart of – is now as important as government regulation.

The next 12-24 months are critical. New reports from the IPCC and major events around the world in 2014 are pushing climate back up the political and media agenda. World leaders are now starting to focus very seriously on global climate talks in 2015. This is a pivotal moment for us and the entire climate and clean economy agenda.

One of the things we will be doing is giving our partners a powerful, unified voice that can be heard in that process. Our message is a clear and simple one: the choice we face is between an uncertain future of risk, volatility and insecurity - or a thriving one of opportunity, prosperity, and security. The evidence of the success of the clean economy is there. I believe our vision of a vibrant low carbon future of prosperity and growth is one which resonates. We will now continue to work to convince key decision makers of the necessity and feasibility of an urgent shift to a low carbon economy, by setting out the compelling case for this transition, the pathway towards it, and the evidence that this opportunity presents.


What is the role specifically of business in driving the clean industrial revolution which The Climate Group advocates?

The chance to build a thriving low carbon economy is greater now than ever. History tells us how business has shaped civilization for the better by responding to some of our greatest challenges with bold, innovative leadership - harnessing new ideas, developing new technologies, and innovating new business models, as our programs show.

Today we must address risk, volatility and instability, and create resilient economies and dynamic, efficient markets.

We are helping to build a powerful new business leadership coalition that will create unstoppable momentum for change. We will continue to work with business partners to accelerate and scale up innovation in clean energy, technology, policy and finance. We have a once-in-a-generation chance to unleash an unstoppable clean revolution that transforms our economy into one that is stronger and more resilient.

"In 2025, we will be living in a low carbon world of opportunity and prosperity."

How do you foresee the world in 2025? And how will The Climate Group have helped shape it?

I believe it’s possible to live in a world which meets humanity’s needs and aspirations sustainably, and I also believe we can turn the climate challenge into an opportunity that delivers this goal. The Climate Group – because of its networks of supporters, and its track record of delivery - can be a powerful catalyst for this process. This is the challenge, and it is an exciting chance to build a better world.

In 10 years’ time, I believe none of us will be talking about climate change as something that we can’t or won’t deal with - we’ll just be asking ourselves how to make this transformation as powerful as possible and ensure that we’re meeting all of humanity’s aspirations. Our vision of a Clean Revolution will have changed the narrative forever, it will have galvanized a game-changing resetting of society and the economy.

By working with the people who decide the future and helping them shape it for the better, we will have helped make possible the fundamental transition to a low carbon world of opportunity and prosperity.

On April 28, The Climate Group will mark its 10th anniversary with an event in London with a difference: we invite you to take part by watching the event live online from 2:30pm GMT, sharing your thoughts, and by adding your voice to our mass-automated tweet to leaders which calls for an urgent #CleanRevolution.

Mark Kenber will be taking part in a live #CleanRevolution Twittter Q&A at 2.30pm GMT on April 24 ahead of the event.


This year The Climate Group is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a series of activities that highlight our past achievements, as well as drive forward our work to secure a thriving low carbon future for all.

The fast-growing clean energy and technology market has the potential to not only future-proof, but kick-start our stagnant economy. Today’s leaders and innovators must unlock a Clean Revolution that builds resilience, creates value and grows prosperity. And The Climate Group provides that opportunity.

Over the last decade, The Climate Group has led large-scale change through our events, partnerships, campaigns and transformative projects. You can see our top 10 achievements here.

Explore our 10 year highlights         What you say about us

Throughout 2014 we will be launching activities around the world to celebrate our 10 years of climate leadership and innovation, and call for urgent action to keep the momentum going to 2015.

And you can be part of our leadership and innovation legacy. If you are a business, sub-national government or organization that wants to help build a low carbon economy of opportunity and prosperity, join us.

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