The entire world has been called to attention in one fell swoop with the silent march of the Coronavirus pandemic. The wicked virus is serving as a rude awakening to the philosophy that informed American civil rights leader Martin Luther King’s statement; “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
The world is grappling for answers and it does not matter where those answers will come from; be it Wuhan, Nairobi, Pretoria, Brussels, Washington DC, or Buenos Aires. No one right now cares whether the scientist who will show the world how to overcome COVID-19 is white or black, man or woman or whether they will come from the global south or global north. Humanity badly needs answers that will allow a return to normalcy, to normal lives and rebuilding of economies now on a downward spiral.
Yet in these times, we must never lose sight of the fact that there is another slow-cooking crisis that we collectively face. This crisis too threatens every race, every nation, every creed, every economy, every military power and ultimately, our very civilization. It’s the growing climate change threat.
All around the world, societies and nations are increasingly experiencing erratic weather patterns, rising weather patterns, degradation of ice masses. Here in Kenya, we’ve seen the receding snow caps arising from years of deforestation, arrival of locusts in waves not seen before, absence, delay or torrential arrival of the rains all of which are turning to a cocktail serving upon us devastating effects on livelihoods and economic lifelines. Climate change has actually been billed as the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable.
On Wednesday, April 22, the world marked Earth Day 2020 which also happened to be the 50th anniversary of this important day. In the middle of the crisis that we face from the Coronavirus pandemic, we may easily lose sight of this day which calls our attention to the issues that threaten our future and that of the coming generations.
The first Earth Day is credited with launching the modern environmental movement and is now recognized as the planet’s largest civic event. Earth Day led to passage of landmark environmental laws in the United States, including the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. Many countries soon adopted similar laws, and in 2016, the United Nations chose Earth Day as the day to sign the Paris Climate Agreement into force.
The United Nations reports that there is growing concern about the health consequences of biodiversity loss and change. Biodiversity changes affect ecosystem functioning and significant disruptions of ecosystems can result in life sustaining ecosystem goods and services.
What then can businesses do in response to this threat?
First, we must acknowledge the extent of the problem and define what role we must play, especially as corporates to battle climate change. The days of business for business’s sake is long gone.
Environmental stewardship is vital to reducing inequalities. As corporates, we must recognise that our operations have an impact on the environment and if that impact is left without mitigation, it piles to economic disparities by disadvantaging the poor and vulnerable. For instance, destruction of forests degrades water catchment areas which ultimately affects food security. The poor bear the brunt of higher food insecurity. A better environment equals a healthier and wealthier society. We must therefore act in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner, report our impact transparently, and most importantly, become deliberate in mitigating our impact.
We recognize that this is a Herculean task; to balance the demands of the drive for profit and the demand to return value to shareholders in the immediate term with the requirement to take a long-term view and deliver value for shareholders, society and future generations.
At Safaricom, we are working hard and tracking and reporting on goals on carbon emissions, supporting afforestation programmes, shifting our energy mix towards more renewable resources and implementing “smart building” initiatives in our offices and shops.
We integrated nine of the Sustainable Development Goals into our corporate strategy in 2016, including goals on Clean, Green Energy (SDG7) and Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG12). Our people have now embraced the Goals as individuals and begun the process of including SDG-related commitments in their departmental and personal performance objectives.
We recognize that there are many companies now coming to the realization that without a functional environment, the very quality of our lives will be seriously degraded.
Climate change is no doubt a stealthier threat than the galloping Coronavirus. However we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the slow effects of a battered earth will become a far worse crisis that will take a long, time to reverse if we don’t get busier at reversing it.