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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


26 October 2021 - On the eve of COP26 the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership is calling for widescale radical collaboration to lead economies away from the worst impacts of climate change to societies that promote nature and inclusion.

As countries prepare to attend the UK-hosted UNFCCC summit in Glasgow, CISL is calling on businesses, the finance sector and political leaders and policymakers to pool their power at the centre of the climate debate. 

CISL, which works with major economic actors and decisionmakers to imprint and prioritise sustainability, believes an integrated, de-siloed approach to tackling climate change is the only way to accelerate action sufficiently for a safe net zero transition. Through long-term experience working with its progressive business and finance groups, the organisation has mapped out clearly the benefits of sustained collaboration across sectors that can drive change at greater pace and scale than the sum of its parts.  

Director and CEO, CISL, Clare Shine said:

“Expectations for this COP are huge but public trust in leaders is very low. The lives and life chances for billions are at stake, with dangerous climate impacts no longer confined to countries on the extremes of the spectrum. It is more vital than ever that the most powerful actors in the economy put their collective weight and innovation capacity at the centre of this debate to collaborate beyond self-interest.

“The breadth and scale of this crisis is beyond anything humankind has tackled in the past. CISL has deep experience of working with business, finance and government to tackle interconnected challenges from a systems perspective, recognising that imperatives for people, nature and climate are deeply interwoven. We believe that bolder collaborative action is the best chance to get us to global stability within the next 10 years and are scaling our reach and impact to include SMEs and innovators.

“The pathway to a globally just transition is tough and controversial. There is not only a space for differences, there’s a need for them. It will not be easy and it will not be straightforward, but we can and must achieve this transformation together.”

As a department of the University of Cambridge, CISL delivers executive education and expertise across business and finance sustainability, guiding thinking and strategy to deliver at the intersection of climate and nature action. The Institute develops frameworks to increase corporate accountability, as well as tools and primary research that support understanding of sector and policy barriers to actions that slow and prevent emissions reduction and nature regeneration. 

Clare added:

“The collapse of our ecosystems, climate change and growing social inequity are integrally connected. It reflects a much deeper deterioration in our relationship with nature and within our own societies. Our future depends on us working together to protect and restabilise the climate, while conserving and regenerating nature so resources can be shared sustainably and fairly. Everyone’s health, homes and livelihoods depend on a balanced and flourishing planet.”

Science indicates Earth’s safe operating boundaries are being driven towards tipping points that will endanger humanity, with the most vulnerable communities hit first and hardest. The IPCC recently warned some changes to the climate are now inevitable and irreversible. Whilst the level of climate ambition globally has never been higher, change is too slow and fractured. 

At COP26 in Glasgow, CISL is urging business, finance and governments to use this moment to make concerted change together at speed and at scale. The organisation is calling for the following: 

  • All countries must work with the UK COP presidency to set urgently increase efforts to accelerate the implementation of the Paris Agreement and keep global temperature increases to less than 1.5°C. Leaders’ plans need to align with the science. We are at 1.1C now, rapid change is vital. 
  • Business, finance and government must use this moment to collaborate and collectively set out concrete plans that can dramatically accelerate the pace of change over the next decade.  The technologies needed to keep the world on track for 1.5C exist, but it will take the most powerful economic and political actors to implement the solutions at the scale and speed needed. Everyone needs to set a net zero goal and a near term target that drives change towards that goal starting now.  
  • Governments need to ensure a just transition where no one is left behind, and all societies are empowered with a positive, collective vision of a net zero future. Rich countries must honour the aid promised to developing countries in the Paris Agreement, acknowledging the $100bn per year commitment must be seen as a floor, not a ceiling. Failure will mean that the young people of today and the generations to follow will face increasingly severe climate disruptions likely to impact every facet of their lives. 
  • Companies are crucial to the economic transition and need to rethink their purpose and priorities, in line with delivering value for society and a net zero future. This will almost inevitably require a rewiring of their core functions such as boards, governance, strategy, culture and innovation to be compatible with net zero as well as the fundamentally aligned goals of nature positive, circular economy and inclusive societies. 
  • Financial institutions underpin present and future global systems and need to take an active and assertive role in delivering a climate transition. This includes supporting the mobilisation of capital towards low-income countries, which are often the most vulnerable to climate disruptions, to meet the trillions emerging economies and developing countries need to decarbonize and build climate resilience. 
  • Radical collaboration that translates momentum into serious action needs to be the focus of all actors. The changes needed to deliver the multiple parts of this transition need to be actioned beyond the corporate bottom line or the domestic political term. Collaboration of local, national & global stakeholders is also needed to understand the devastating impacts of climate change on human lives & livelihoods – particularly those most vulnerable to climate disruption.  

CISL will be present on the ground at COP26 launching several reports covering a variety of key issues including the role of the insurance sector in climate action, and business resilience in a changing climate, and the importance of youth voices from the global south in understanding our responses to the climate crisis.. Each report’s central plankt is collaboration that can increase the understanding, speed and scale of change that can slow climate impacts and protect communities. 

Events hosted by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership during COP26, 1–12 November 2021, Glasgow



Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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