The lives and livelihoods of future generations depend on our actions today

Kicking of Day Two of the CBI’s Road to Zero Conference, CBI President Lord Bilimoria focused on how business can work together to build on historic progress, boost ambition and deliver a more sustainable world for those that follow. 



Good morning everyone. And thank you for joining us on day two of our Road to Net-Zero Conference.

We’ve got a packed agenda ahead.

Before we get started, I’d like to ask you to cast your minds back to 2008 when the UK’s Climate Change Act made history. A world first. Committing us to cut our emissions by 80% by 2050 compared to the 1990s.

Since then, we’ve seen the roots of a green industrial revolution take hold here in the UK. From energy to transport to heat.

With government and business working together to bring forward the policies, reforms, investment and innovation necessary to achieve a cut of around 62% in emissions – in large part due to the decarbonisation of our energy mix.

As a result, in just over a decade, the UK has gone from almost total dependency on fossil fuels to 2019, when we marked our first year in which the amount of electricity generated by low-carbon sources overtook that from fossil fuels.

What a staggering transformation this has been – to one of the biggest economies in the world.

Today millions of people across the country can depend on cheap, reliable energy from wind farms, to solar panels, to tidal generators – and more.

It is a shift that has also brought jobs and opportunities to the UK. Take the UK’s offshore wind industry – which has grown to become one of our country’s greatest net-zero success stories.

And the transformation isn’t over.

Right now, the UK is a leader in the global race to net-zero. And this week marks the second anniversary of the launch of the ‘Race to Zero’ campaign to kick start the shift to net-zero across business, local communities and countries.

Our progress has been, undeniably, historic.

But the need for action remains increasingly urgent if we’re to meet the UK’s climate targets, and our commitment set in April this year to cut our carbon emissions by 78% before 2035 – relative to 1990s levels.

We hope this conference can be a turning point on this road, as we count down to COP26 in November, which we’ll be hosting, bringing together the best minds from UK business, politics, and academia. In energy, transport, heating and beyond – to spark ideas and action.

None of us should be in any doubt of what’s at risk.

An independent review of the economics of biodiversity, produced by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta of the University of Cambridge, and published earlier this year describes nature as “our most precious asset” and finds that humanity has collectively mismanaged its global portfolio.

Our demands far exceed nature’s capacity to supply the goods and services that we all rely on and the last few decades have taken a devastating ecological toll.

The review highlights recent estimates that suggest, we would need 1.6 earths to maintain humanity’s current way of life.

As Professor Dasgupta said: “Truly sustainable economic growth and development means recognising that our long-term prosperity relies on rebalancing our demand of nature’s goods and services with its capacity to supply them.”

Since 1970, there has been an almost 70% drop, on average, in the populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Some 1 million animal and plant species — almost a quarter of the global total —are believed to be threatened with extinction.

Together, we can – and must – do what we can to prevent this.

Building a more sustainable world for those who follow us.

The road to net-zero

So, where do we begin?

Well, we know the ambition is there.

Last month, the CBI hosted the B7 summit. The business counterpart to the G7. We fed into the G7. Climate action was right at the top of the agenda.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in his speech to the B7 was clear, “The race to net-zero is not a zero-sum game”. And, in true Boris style, he said “green is good”.

And here in the UK, a third of our largest businesses have already pledged to eliminate their contribution to carbon emissions by 2050.

These firms represent a total market capitalisation of over £650bn. What a commitment. 

Even in the middle of a pandemic – the biggest economic crisis in a generation – firms like Microsoft have pledged to go carbon negative.

But, of course, we can always go further. Push to do better. And the urgency for us to do so is only increasing.

Well, as the CDP and UN Global Impact’s recent assessment of climate ambition in the G7 business sector showed, this is a ‘make or break’ year.

Across the world, governments and business must act ‘swiftly and decisively together’ – to boost ambition.

And, most importantly, set and deliver against science-based targets to reach net-zero by 2050 and limit global temperature rise below 1.5°C.

Our route to COP

Now, as this year’s organisers and hosts of both the G7 Summit, which has just taken place, and COP26, which is coming up in November, the UK has the privilege, the duty and, vitally, the opportunity to demonstrate global leadership in climate and environmental policy.

As I said earlier, we were the first major economy to commit to net-zero emissions. And coming out of the pandemic this is our chance – to make history again.

Brokering action on the world stage. Working with China, the US, and others – to agree common goals.

And, during the G7 meetings last week, Finance Ministers supported the move towards mandatory climate-related disclosures, responding to the calls of the business community for more international regulatory alignment.

This was followed on Sunday, with powerful commitments from the G7 members on closing the vaccine gap between advanced economies and developing countries. And taking fundamental steps toward meeting the global climate and biodiversity challenges that the world faces.

This includes moves: to end public funding of unabated fossil fuel power generation; and to set in motion long-term strategies to cut emissions and achieve net-zero by 2050; and vital action to preserve natural habitats and protect global biodiversity.

Now, we need to build on that momentum in the lead up to COP26. To scale up our ambitions for truly international climate policy cooperation and start seizing the prizes available to UK businesses at home and globally.

Powering new growth, new export markets, new jobs, and new industries.

The action we need

In fact, last month, the CBI published ‘Seize the Moment’ – our economic strategy for the United Kingdom. Our vision for the country, in the decade ahead. Including key steps towards decarbonisation.

We know, of course, that there are things we can all do, as businesses, as policymakers, as individuals.

But right now, I want to mention just three big things we need, if we are to make net-zero a reality: three ‘P’s.

And they are: planning, partnerships, and passion.

I want to briefly talk about each in turn.

Starting, with the first – planning.

The UK’s ‘ten-point plan’ for a green industrial revolution is a brilliant start. It sets out the government’s ambitions on everything from more renewable energy to electric cars, to green homes, to green finance and beyond.

Take sustainable finance, at a recent event with the Lord Mayor, I heard him say, “This is one of the greatest investment opportunities of our generation”. He said, “Go green or go home”.

And, together, we can ensure that in the future ‘green finance’ will be known as ‘finance’.

But now, businesses want to see the detail – and timeframes for delivery. Including a plan for electric vehicle charging points and other infrastructure – by the end of the year. More detail on new business models for carbon capture and storage and proposals for public-private partnerships to finance decarbonisation of the UK’s real economy. So that businesses and sectors can prepare and set their budgets and strategies in sync with government plans.

We know the political will is there.

The Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has made it a top priority – part of his acronym ‘ENZI’. His three big goals. Enterprise, net-zero, and innovation.

Now, as CBI Director-General Tony Danker said yesterday, the government needs to get going and deliver the blueprints – the policy detail – to make net-zero a reality.

A heat and buildings strategy. A transport decarbonisation plan. A hydrogen strategy. The Treasury’s net-zero review. A green taxonomy.

Without these plans, we can’t turn up at COP26 in November and say we’re making progress.

And that brings me to the second ‘P’ – partnership.

Because the scale of change we need won’t come from industry or government alone. But all parts of society, working towards a common goal – all working together.

Business, government, unions, regulators, and consumers.

The G7 communique stated that – to be credible – ambitions need to be supported by tangible actions. In all sectors of our economies and societies.

We will need a technology driven transition to net-zero, prioritising the most urgent and polluting sectors and activities.

And in that list of priorities the communique says as one example, in our homes and buildings and also industry, we recognise the need for an urgent step change in the deployment of renewable heating and cooling and reduction in energy demand.

It will only be possible through partnership.

A great example is the Heat Commission – that I chaired at the CBI, in partnership with the University of Birmingham, where I am proud to be Chancellor.

We brought together housing bodies, trade associations, academics, and experts to look at how we can transform homes and buildings in the UK.

We know heat makes up over one-third of green-house gas emissions. And decarbonising won’t be easy.

There are real trade-offs.

Out of the 29 million existing homes in the UK, only a million of them are up to the standard. We will not reach net-zero by 2050 if we do not upgrade the remaining 28 million homes.

So, how do we do this? How do we afford it?

The answer has to be – and is – through partnership.

The government can do their bit, for example, they can follow the CBI’s recommendations to legislate that, after 2025, all new boilers must be ‘hydrogen-ready’.

And back green tech like heat pumps and enable local delivery – putting communities’ needs at the heart of this transition.

And, for example, we can have a National Centre for the Decarbonisation for Heat – which will help to deliver this across the country. Based in the Midlands.

But there are also great examples of how we – as businesses – can step up.

Take insulation company, Rockwool. Who are retrofitting hundreds of homes, transforming inefficient 1960s high-rise blocks, into heat-preserving, affordable housing.

Or look at transport. Where manufacturers like Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover are helping us switch to electric vehicles.

In Aberdeen – they are now the world’s first city to have hydrogen double decker buses, made possible by local leaders, businesses, and experts – all working together.

And last year, Birmingham University’s Centre for Railway Research – a Queen’s award-winning department ─ developed the UK’s first hydrogen powered train.

That’s the ingenuity of partnership. All these innovations – at scale – could make a real difference.

Finally – I want to talk about passion.

If you’re listening today, you probably have no shortage of passion in your business.  

Now we need you to share that spark. With customers, staff, with suppliers, and beyond. Bringing others on the journey.

So, at the CBI, we’re delighted to be working in partnership with Deloitte on our ‘Goal 13 Impact’ platform. An online tool, for businesses – of all sizes to share and find information about decarbonising.

If you’re already a leading net-zero company – please, sign up to showcase what you’re doing. Maybe a company in your sector can learn from you.

Or, if you’re a business just starting on the net-zero journey, why not have a look, see what others like you are doing, and pledge to act.

Our target is to see 1,000 businesses signed-up, by COP26 in November.

There’s a challenge. And I hope you’ll join us.

The prizes

And if we can achieve all this: the right plans – from government. The partnerships – working to shared goals. And the passion – showcasing what works, and helping others on the journey. Just imagine the future we could build.

One with green jobs, in every part of the country. At least 240,000 net new jobs in the next decade, at our latest estimate.

We could level up and rebalance our economy, with new clusters of expertise, where they are needed most.  

We’ve already seen great examples. Like floating wind farms in the Humber – the UK’s ‘energy estuary’. Or the Holyhead Hydrogen Hub.

And we can create healthy, smart cities. With cleaner air, water, and increased biodiversity.

I am so proud to be a member of the University of Oxford Healthy Cities Commission, chaired by my Cross Bench colleague Lord Best, alongside Kellogg College, Oxford ─ where I am proud to be a Bynam Tudor Fellow ─ and the Prince’s Foundation.

We’re looking at the links between urban design, and the risks of disease outbreaks and other serious threats to health and wellbeing.

Thinking about what shape urbanisation – in areas like transport and net-zero more widely – should take in the future, to change people’s lives for the better.


So, in conclusion, responding to the Dasgupta Review, Sir David Attenborough said, it is ‘the compass that we urgently need’.

He said: “Economics is a discipline that shapes decisions of the utmost consequence, and so matters to us all. The Dasgupta Review at last puts biodiversity at its core … by bringing economics and ecology face to face, we can help to save the natural world and in doing so save ourselves.”

And, looking back on the past year, I think the pandemic has shown us just how important it is that our healthcare, economic, and financial systems are resilient and sustainable enough to withstand external shocks.

It took one virus to shut down the global economy.

Now, the climate crisis – if it is not managed properly – will have even more devastating effects.

The lives and livelihoods of our future generations depend on our actions, right now.  

And, if you speak to young people today, two things matter to them more than any others – one, diversity and inclusion, and the second is climate change and the environment.

Their desire and drive to build back better is absolute.

We must not fail them.

If, we work together, I truly believe the transformation we need is possible.

The government can provide strategic sectoral plans, financial guarantees, and grants. The private sector can harness its innovation, skills, and capital.

That work starts here. It starts with us. And it starts right now.

Thank you. 

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