Finance + Sustainability: How CAs can help build a sustainable future
World-renowned environmental and human rights activist Kumi Naidoo shares his insights on building a sustainable society, his work in this area and how CAs as leaders in business and finance can help make that possible.
The discussion on sustainability and climate change is one of urgency and unparalleled importance. As communities across the globe continue to experience the effects of the fluctuations of the planet’s climate through droughts, fires and flooding on a worrying scale, the task of combating the negative impact that humans have on the planet has never been more vital.
This is a fact that climate activist Kumi Naidoo is acutely aware of. Kumi began his journey into activism working against apartheid in his native South Africa. He was involved in the grassroots movement which set up community and youth groups to fight against the apartheid state during the 70s and 80s.
It was during this time when Kumi saw that to tackle an issue such as apartheid, the more people that he brought along on the journey from every corner of society the better the chances were that a positive resolution was attainable.
This is an approach that Kumi has adopted to tackle the climate crisis.
“Climate change was originally framed in a catastrophic way,” said Kumi.
“By framing it as an environmental issue, we put it in a box that doesn’t allow it to get the resonance that it needed.”
The problem, Kumi said, was that climate change was not viewed through the lens of intersectionality.
“Say for example you are trying to advance gender equality, you need to understand how gender intersects with race, class, age, ability, religion…a whole range of issues.
“People don’t live siloed lives.”
The discussions around climate change, and the NGOs leading them, must adopt an intersectional approach, Kumi said, in order to frame the issues in as broadly relatable terms as possible.
“All parts of society, when you face a major injustice, need to get involved,” Kumi said.
How can finance help?
“We are in a situation where the world of finance is exceptionally important,” Kumi said when discussing the role CAs and finance professionals can play in tackling climate change.
Kumi believes that to make real change in aligning the efforts of interventions of society into the climate crisis with the recommendations of the scientific community, there is a need for an accelerated change strategy.
“One of the options is rather than organisations campaigning against thousands of companies that are engaged in activities that are taking us closer to the climate cliff – follow the money and stop the flow of capital at the source to ensure money is not being invested in projects that take us closer to that cliff,” Kumi explained.
Actions such as engaging lending institutions not to lend money to fossil fuel and deforestation projects to challenging regulatory and central banks to adopt strong climate protection criteria.
This is where the CAs would come in.
“I would ask the accountancy community to, if they can, try and clean up their finances. Try to ensure the money streams are going to ‘clean’ investments,” Kumi said.
He also hinted at a skills gap in the climate community as this area attracts people that are “attracted by passion and value” and may lack the business and finance skills to successfully run an organisation.
With this in mind, he suggested CAs may look to board positions and that a role of a treasurer would place them well to oversee the movement of an organisation’s money.
Kumi also encouraged CAs to educate themselves about the scientific reality of where the world is in terms of the climate crisis while also taking stock of where best you can invest your energy in projects that can help.
“This industry has the ability to influence its own clients,” Kumi said.
“Make sure you are holding a mirror to your clients on a daily basis.
“You also have to find the right balance between those big structural policy change initiatives…and those things that can change in front of your eyes within your own community.”