No, I’m not talking about Francis Rossi but the issue of how to achieve sustainability. This came up during a lunch, where my lunch colleague had picked up on my discussions of sustainable finance, and started to debate how we could change things. The issue we agreed is with governments, but government focus upon votes, the next election, the retention of power and keeping control. We were a little cynical, but then this view is supported by the comments made by Platon last year:
Platon is a world-renowned portrait photographer and has photographed most political leaders around the world. At one United Nations Summit, he managed to be given the privilege of photographing every world leader attending from Gadhafi to Berlusconi. On presenting these images, he noted that nearly every single one was now on trial for corruption.
Hmmm. I am cynical about politicians. Just look at Boris Johnson, who puts his own agenda above that of his party and country, but you have to remember that the actual word politics stems from the Latin poly meaning many and tics meaning blood-sucking parasites.
Accepting that most politicians put their own agendas above everything else, and focus upon the next vote, how can we change that? How can we get politicians to put sustainability above electability?
The answer is we won’t. Sorry, but we won’t. Unless there’s an uprising (see Norway and Sweden) to change the whole way we look at money, commerce, society and the future.
The lunch discussion continued, and it made me realise that climate change, sustainability, inclusion, the development goals and all these other areas are a little like changing core systems in a bank. A bank leader is focused upon their time in office, their bonuses and incentives, their ability to generate more return on assets and equity, and their maintenance of position. As a result, they won’t take unnecessary risks and do things that could weaken their position, such as taking the risk of a high cost, high exposure, lengthy program of systems change. That is why systems haven’t changed for decades. Each bank leader dodges the systems change bullet and leaves it for their successor to deal with. As times goes by it gets riskier and riskier to change systems, and hence it gets lower and lower on the agenda of the decision maker. That cycle can only change if the Board give a mandate for digital transformation and change, so that the focus moves away from return on assets and equity and moves to a focus upon change and transformation.
In exactly the same way, I think we have the same dilemma with politicians and government. Whilst the focus is on the next election, the maintenance of power, the support of the party and the people, making unpopular decisions like increasing taxes on flights and vehicles, punishing fossil fuel firms, forcing banks to pursue sustainable finance and keeping everyone onside is unachievable.
However, if you took away the electability aspect and made the focus to keep a future for the country long-term whilst being unpopular in the short-term, well, you could just change the game. Unfortunately, no one wants to unless there is a people’s uprising, so ceterus parabus, status quo, c’est la vie.