Miguel Gomez, Associate at the Carbon Trust and ESCP Business School’s MSc in Energy Management Alumnus (Class of 2019), reveals how we can link the pathways of environmental sustainability and economic growth.
The COVID-19 pandemic is an enormous challenge to economies and societies around the globe, but it must not thwart international efforts to mitigate climate change. Governments’ efforts are geared towards addressing the health crisis, and providing relief to affected businesses and workers.
Could the post COVID-19 era present an opportunity to closely align public policies with climate goals and reduce the risk of continuing with carbon-intensive infrastructure?
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought numerous challenges to society and the economy. Governments, companies and people have faced the need to adapt to a new normal where value chains are disrupted, basic services are put on hold and health must be at the forefront of all collective efforts. However, the pandemic also comes at a crucial moment where countries are joining forces around a common goal of limiting global warming – an uptick in collaboration which started at 2015’s COP21 in Paris. It, therefore, presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realise how tangible the impact of human action on the natural environment is. With the world stopping for a long period during 2020, the evidence has shown that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have been cut drastically and therefore proven that it is possible to mitigate our negative impact on the climate. Countries can and should align public policies to benefit from existing low-carbon technologies in the different sectors, including energy, transport, manufacturing and others; aiming at progressively reducing the environmental impact to achieve the set climate goals.
How can organisations bring environmental and economic priorities together?
Despite efforts being made by governments under the international climate accords, projections show that complying with current policies would take the average global temperature to over 3ºC above pre-industrial levels, which would bring catastrophic environmental, social and economic effects, such as increased heat waves, flooding, migration, higher mortality and infrastructure damage, to name a few.
Corporations have the chance to step up and lead the transformation. The Paris Agreement acted as a catalyst: companies understood they needed to act to get closer to a world with an average temperature rise of less than 1.5°C by 2050. We are now seeing that the environment is gaining importance in business decisions, with initiatives such as the Carbon Disclosure Project, the Taskforce for Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) becoming mainstream. The public concern and increased mass demonstrations are clear evidence that stakeholders are now demanding higher transparency and commitments from the private sector, which means companies are now bringing environmental discussions into their board rooms.
What are the opportunities and challenges in bringing about net zero?
Net zero is a long race that starts by understanding the present carbon impact and aligning it with carbon reduction targets set out by global accords, such as limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels (COP2015). The private sector needs to start thinking about the risks of not aligning with the science: if they are resistant to pressure from consumers and investors, the government will set new regulations that can have substantial effects on the business.
To take advantage of the opportunities to rebuild better and move towards a net-zero future, we need both collaboration and a scientific, fact-based approach. Sustainability is at the heart of all the important decisions that companies make. If we are going to have any chance of meeting our targets, net zero really must underpin everything that businesses, governments and societies do.
In your opinion, how important is sustainability for governments across all continents?
The basic definition of sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs, i.e. the ability to exist constantly without deteriorating.
Therefore, sustainability must be the most important responsibility of governments that aim at providing their populations with prosperous life conditions. This word encompasses not only environmental sustainability, but, just as importantly, social and economic sustainability. However, with the objective of providing societies with better standards of living, governments have been overexploiting natural resources with the excuse of needing them to increase the degree of development. This is where the world has started to unbalance; the climate has shown that we cannot keep this rhythm of exploitation going if we want to keep the world in which we live as habitable as it is.
Leading economies are starting to align with best practices for a lower-carbon world and annual COP meetings are proof of that. However, there must be a global alignment where developing economies get the support from those countries at the forefront of sustainability which have also polluted their way through the past. Global collaboration is key if we are aiming to integrate sustainability in policies across all continents.
Tell us about your current role and what inspires you at work
As an Associate in the Business Services team at the Carbon Trust, I work with corporations, with a special focus on Latin America, advising them directly and helping them to identify sustainable opportunities at a product, organisational and supply-chain level. I am involved in a wide range of projects, including product and organisational footprinting, assurance and certification services, value-chain analysis, climate-related risks and opportunity analysis under the Taskforce for Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), especially in science-based targets (SBT) projects.
Working in a mission-driven organisation, I am inspired by the increasing interest we are seeing from corporations; not only in understanding the impact they have on the environment, but also their willingness to become leaders in the transition to a low-carbon economy. All in all, what inspires me daily is to know that I am contributing to a better future.
Tell us about the early stages of your career and what led you to apply to the MSc in Energy Management (MEM) programme at ESCP Business School
I have always been interested in the energy sector, particularly in the development of renewable energies within developing economies. My first work experience, after finalising my Bachelor degree in Economics, allowed me to take a deep dive into the Colombian electricity market, taking part in a project from the top-ranked think tank, Fedesarrollo, analysing the costs and benefits of integrating non-conventional renewable energies into the national matrix. From that point onwards, I knew I wanted to be involved with the energy industry.
I then moved to work for a Japanese conglomerate, Mitsui, for just over four years, where I had the chance to work not only as the person in charge of business development for renewable energies in Colombia and Panama, but also to explore investment opportunities in the oil and gas sector.
Having a comprehensive view of the energy industry encouraged me to better understand how all these sources and uses of energy are intertwined. Also, having studied and worked with different power generation technologies, diverse transportation methods and their fuels, international hydrocarbon trading, and the mining sector, I was interested in learning more about the fundamental economic and technological concepts of the energy sector with the purpose of contributing to a sustainable development.
The MEM programme at ESCP Business School offered me the chance to get that holistic view and reaffirm my opinion that a balanced energy matrix, dominated by the least contaminating technologies and backed up by the most efficient fossil fuels such as liquefied natural gas, can be the starting point for better scenarios from an environmental, economic and social perspective.
The fact that the programme takes place in both London and Paris was also key to my decision, as I wanted to experience the vibrant life of two of the greatest European capitals.
What were the biggest takeaways from your studies at ESCP?
I entered the MEM with a clear perspective of wanting to work in the renewables sector; also wanting to gain a broader vision of the energy industry, as I consider it fundamental to understanding the balance between all sources of energy. We know, for instance, that fossil fuels will still be around for some decades. I am not a believer in micro-specialisation, but rather in getting a holistic view of things in order to form my opinion. The programme gave me the tools to apply this knowledge to my work and to gain a better understanding of the energy world.
And, most importantly, the programme allowed me to make some very good friends that I know will be around for a long time!