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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

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31 May 2024 – With a raft of global elections in process or looming, and with geopolitical tensions and conflict dominating political agendas and decision-making fora, we face a decade more important than any other.

One of the dominant strengths of CISL is in our convening power and collaborations which help influence and shape the policies we need for a sustainable future. Here, CISL Directors from across our global offices offer their views on the direction of travel needed in this most pivotal year.   

Richard Calland, Director for CISL South Africa

Richard Calland

Like many countries around the world this year, South Africa is currently going through a general election process (votes were cast on 29 May). And it is rightly being heralded as a ‘watershed’ one, given that the 30-year, six-election domination by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) is likely to come to an end, pushing Africa’s biggest economy into the territory of minority and coalition government. We should know the results soon, so watch this space.  

This period is encouraging both optimism – that an era of a more competitive and mature multi-party democracy may be about to begin – and uncertainty and anxiety – that the experience of coalitions at local government level, which has tended to be transactional and unstable, will contagion ‘upwards’ into national government, with untold implications for governance and policy. 

Greater fragmentation is likely, as the ANC vacates the centre-ground, with rugged new populist parties emerging, as they have in many places around the world. There are justified concerns that South Africa’s current policy trajectory in the sphere of ‘green economy’ will be disrupted. 

For all of its weaknesses, and its failure to contain Jacob Zuma’s corrupt rule as president between 2009-2018, the ANC has had a generally progressive and science-based approach to responding to global systemic pressures, including climate change. The Just Energy Transition (JET), for example, is the pioneer ‘country platform’ that is supporting South Africa’s complex transition from a coal-based energy system to a renewable energy-based one. President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks compellingly about the topic, and his commitment was necessary to secure the international climate finance investment of $8.5bn (and growing), pledged by a JET-P partnership of international donors including the UK at COP26. 

Ramaphosa established a Presidential Climate Commission – an important institutional innovation – that has led the JET process and helped navigate a complicated political economy, giving rise to the prospect of a ‘whole economy’ transition. The question of whether he will survive if the ANC loses its majority will have profound implications for South Africa’s future economic development pathway, as will the precise composition of any coalition government that emerges after the election.  

Learn more about CISL South Africa

Ursula Woodburn, Director of Corporate Leaders Group Europe

Ursula WoodburnFrom 6-9 June, Europeans will directly elect MEPs from their countries to the European Parliament and, in the course of the following six months, a new European Commission will be appointed. The results of these elections will influence the direction of the EU for the next five years. So, the stakes don’t get much higher.  

To kick off the new mandate, European leaders will agree their Strategic Agenda at the end of June. Given the new and deeper challenges and to Europe’s model, including the changing nature of global competition, geopolitical tensions and vulnerable supply chains, it is due to focus on securing geopolitical, economic and social stability as well the EU’s future competitiveness. 

However, CISL’s European work, including through its Corporate Leaders Group Europe, demonstrates that investing in clean technologies and in nature will be critical to the EU’s future resilience and competitiveness. It is vital that we continue to act to mitigate the enormous risks that climate change and the deterioration of nature pose to our economy and society, and to make sure our businesses are future-proof in the face of the race to dominate net-zero technologies.  

This means building on the legacy of the EU’s Green Deal and continuing EU ambition on climate and nature goals. This will be essential for people, nature and businesses. 

Find out about the work of Corporate Leaders Group Europe

Bev Cornaby, Director of Corporate Leaders Group UK

Bev CornabyThe UK General Election will be vital for the environment, with the course of the next parliament determining the UK’s success in meeting internationally agreed 2030 climate and nature targets. These include the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) - outlining the domestic actions that each country plans to take to tackle climate change; they are submitted every five years and cannot go backwards in terms of ambition - and the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) targets, both aimed at halting and reversing nature loss by 2030.  

Not only is this an important time to set the UK on the right course domestically on how it will meet international targets and maintain its position as a global leader on climate and nature, but it is also a vital moment for global collaboration between governments and businesses, which can help address these challenges collectively. The UK has played an important role in the past in encouraging global ambition and in convening those who can work through the solutions.  

CLG UK’s ambition is that it continues to do so. Our role is therefore more important than ever, as climate action, net zero and the environmental agenda all come under more scrutiny. Given this, our core messages for 2024 all centre around our north star: unlocking UK leadership and maintaining ambition for climate, nature and people. 

Read about Corporate Leaders Group UK

Katherine Quinn, Senior Programme Manager working on international policy

Katherine Quinn2024 is a critical year for international climate policy. The physical impacts of climate change continue to accelerate, and we are currently expected to exceed safe limits of global warming in the early 2030s. Cooperation between nations is essential to prevent catastrophic planetary changes. 

This year is especially important because new NDCs are due under the Paris Agreement.  They are an important way of measuring action and ensuring accountability, however currently, it is estimated that no country’s NDC is sufficient to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with the Paris Agreement. Many countries will showcase their new NDCs at COP29 in November 2024, so the months leading up to COP are a key opportunity to push for increased ambition at the domestic level. 

2024 is also the ‘year of elections’, with almost half the world’s population living in countries that will hold elections. From a climate perspective, some nations to watch include the United States, Brazil, Indonesia and India. The United States is important as it is one of the world’s biggest emitters and, as a superpower, it has an influential leadership role in the international community.

As the President of UNFCCC COP30 in 2025, Brazil has a crucial role to play in pushing the international climate agenda forward. Indonesia and India are growing economies that act as both leaders and counterweights in regional politics, so ambitious climate policy from these nations has the potential to create positive ripple effects globally. Watch this space. 

About the Corporate Leaders Network

Read Global Leadership in the Age of Turbulence: CISL’s report on the leadership we need now

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The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.      


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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