This month, we are very excited to hear from Majda Dabaghi, Director of Inclusive and Green Growth at the world’s largest business organization – the International Chamber of Commerce. She shares her story and her perspectives on climate, inclusive business and driving impact through innovation across all sizes and sectors of business.

Q: Majda, could you tell us a little about yourself and your journey so far?

A: I grew up in Ottawa, Canada, where living in harmony with nature is simply a way of life. We are surrounded by the great outdoors and, with that, comes a respect for what nature has to offer and a sense of responsibility to help preserve it. I grew up biking everywhere, skating on the Ottawa canal (the world’s largest skating rink and best way to commute!); cross-country skiing in winter; canoeing and kayaking in summer.

Some of my early memories of my sustainability journey also connect to nature, from my first Earth Day to a speech about the Ozone layer that I presented in front of the whole school at age 10 or 11. At 15, my family moved west to the ski resort town of Whistler and I had the fortune to continue to be surrounded by majestic natural beauty – this time endless mountain ranges and the Pacific Ocean – and to learn about our relationship with the natural world from First Nations communities.

After deciding to become a lawyer and completing my legal training, I moved to London, England, where I focused my corporate law practice on renewable energies – and even helped to develop a solar energy intranet portal in my first year. When it was time for a change after a decade working with corporate law, it seemed like a natural evolution to lead the environmental portfolio at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). ICC is the institutional representative of 45 million companies in over 100 countries and among many activities, leads engagements towards many key international processes, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

As Director of Inclusive & Green Growth at ICC, I bring together my knowledge of both business and the environment to convene private sector input into international policy discussions, and help drive sustainable and inclusive economic growth. I feel privileged to represent business at the highest levels of international negotiations, including as official UNFCCC Focal Point for Business and Industry, and to be able to demonstrate what business can bring to help achieve our collective environmental goals.

What’s clear is that Climate Action is Everyone’s Business and, at ICC, we are helping to support companies of all sizes, sectors and geographies to “future-proof” their business.

Most recently, I worked to launch the SME Climate Hub to support small and medium size enterprises to “future proof” their businesses – and build resilience in the face of increased climate risk, which has already been recognised by key Global Corporates, including Unilever, Ikea and Nestlé.

Q: ICC has been at the forefront of business engagement with key decision makers on a range of issues linked to “Green Growth” for many years – with a special focus on the SDGs, including Climate Change and Biodiversity. Where do you see business adding the most value to those processes?

A: ICC played a key role in providing practical business inputs to help deliver the Paris Climate Agreement and in shaping the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We work continually with our network of companies – representing all sectors and sizes– and with a diverse range of partners to ensure that that these types of issue areas form part of a dialogue and process that works with – and for- business. ICC also recognises and promotes the defining, central role that the private sector plays around the world in promoting sustainable development.

We believe that action from all stakeholders is vital to meeting the challenges and opportunities of the SDGs. In particular, business is a key partner to help develop and implement concrete solutions, but also to help instil in governments the confidence they need to increase their ambition and champion policies that will ensure we achieve our collective goals. The need for meaningful collaboration cannot be overstated.

Q: This is a key year to help deliver on the promise of the Paris Agreement. How can business get involved in the lead up to COP26 in Glasgow later this year?

A: ICC recognises the urgent need to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5° Celsius. The science is clear – if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change and achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, we must cut emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Yet, the most recent UN synthesis report shows that we are not collectively on track to meet this goal. We still have time to act, but it will require a coordinated global effort by all stakeholders – including businesses of every size, sector, and geography.

We have seen a significant increase in the number of companies around the world putting climate at the heart of their operations. In the last year alone, the number of companies that have committed to achieving net-zero by 2050 has doubled through the UN Race To Zero initiative. Net Zero by 2050 has become the new north star to stay in the game. Similarly, we are seeing more companies committed to taking action on biodiversity as can be illustrated through ICC’s partner platform Business for Nature.

We know that climate change and biodiversity collapse will have far more devastating effects on the world and the real economy than the current pandemic, which means every business and business organisation should be taking action to reach net zero by 2050 and to address biodiversity loss.

If the global Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that building resilience is vital for businesses, communities and global economies to survive and thrive in the face of future threats and opportunities, and that work starts now.

Q: It has become ever more apparent in recent years that the role of value and supply chains as well as Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) is essential to driving positive social and environmental impacts and to innovation. As the leading force behind the SME Climate Hub, could you share some of the thinking that is driving that initiative, and how it is progressing?

A: An incredible 90 per cent of business worldwide is driven by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and they employ over two billion people. SMEs are truly the lifeblood of our shared, global economy – and yet on many levels they have been left out of climate action initiatives to date – leaving them deprived of the tools and resources needed to ensure resilience in the face of growing climate risk.

One of the most pressing existential threats to SMEs is climate change, and with 40% to 60% of small businesses never reopening after a natural disaster – such as hurricanes, flood or drought – curbing carbon emissions and building business resilience has never been so important.

About SME Climate Hub

The SME Climate Hub is a global platform that provides a one-stop-shop for SMEs to: make an internationally recognised climate commitment to halve emissions by 2030 and reach net zero emission by no later than 2050. It features practical tools and resources to help business curb their emissions and unlock valuable incentives.

SMEs that take part will not only better manage climate risk, they will also position themselves to become more attractive to a broad range of important stakeholders: customers who are increasingly climate conscious; the thousands of multinationals – including Novozymes – with decarbonisation plans that are increasingly making climate action a procurement criteria; and to the growing number of lenders and investors now addressing climate-related issues directly.

Q: The Month of March recognises and celebrates international Women’s’ Day and this years’ theme is; “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” How do you see the role of women in leadership roles and positions impacting the Climate, Sustainability and Innovation discourse for Business as we seek to “Build Back Better”?

A: People may be surprised to learn that women are often disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change. Given women’s roles as primary caregivers and providers of water, food and energy across the globe, women are more vulnerable to severe weather events such as floods or droughts. Recent figures from the UN show that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women and girls.

If women are not at the proverbial table making decisions – especially those that exacerbate existing inequalities such as climate change – we, as a society, will not be in a position to squarely and adequately address those challenges. And the outcome of that will be a global community that is poorer, both financially and socially.

Women have led sustainability efforts at home, in their communities and internationally for decades. Back in my home country of Canada, when taking office, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked why his first Cabinet was Inclusive and Gender balanced. He replied; “Because its 2015”. Today, in 2021, economic, social, and environmental goals in the post-COVID-19 world will not be achieved without meaningful participation by all genders.

Q: What would be your closing thoughts for us?

A: Achieving a better, balanced future has never been more important – not just for biodiversity, or climate or the environment – but for business and society as a whole. When I reflect on how far I’ve come – from that young girl at school looking to champion environmental causes, to working with international businesses every day to lead global change on climate and environment – I feel a tremendous sense of pride. It’s been a humbling and inspiring journey as I’ve contributed to help support gender equality, powered by women’s leadership and played a small role in helping to preserve our natural world. And now, I’m excited and committed to continue moving forward, making sure that I help to inspire others to make gender, diversity and inclusion, and the SDGs key elements of every goal for a resilient rebuild – our global challenges are, after all, interconnected.

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