James Murray's speech at the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards 2019
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the ninth annual BusinessGreen Leaders Awards.
Greener than Greta Thunberg's travel itinerary.
More competitive than a Conservative Party leadership race.
More credible than a candid snap of Boris Johnson.
The BusinessGreen Leaders Awards are the must attend event for the UK's green economy. Indeed there are so many of us here this evening that depending on which campaigning theory of change you subscribe to we could probably hold a central London bridge for a fortnight if we so chose.
Tonight is a celebration. A celebration of a sector that is both literally and figuratively so hot right now.
I can only apologise for how mind-bendingly sweltering it is in here this evening.
Please blame the air conditioning.
That or decades of spiraling global greenhouse gas emissions and the continuing inadequacy of our collective response to an escalating existential crisis. Whichever works for you.
As a side note, I appreciate the title of most dystopian story of the week is a highly competitive field given the past few days has seen us debate the appropriateness of man-handling peaceful protestors, question the precise length of the likely new Prime Minister's hair in clearly staged photographs, and ask whether a UN special rapporteur is right to warn the world is facing 'climate apartheid'.
But can I just get a special mention for the fact Paris is having to set up cool rooms in municipal buildings to help the vulnerable cope with 40 degree plus temperatures.
Meanwhile, the Everglades are on fire, Boris Johnson is bumbling away about making low carbon model buses, and worst of all England keep losing at cricket.
The sense we are living through the opening scenes of a low budget dystopian sci-fi film becomes more apparent with each passing summer. Frankly, the whole writing team deserve to be fired for their sledgehammer subtly and complete lack of light and shade.
Thankfully, the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards are not a council of despair. Far from it.
Tonight's awards are a remarkable event at the end of a remarkable day, in a remarkable month, during a remarkable year.
Today, the House of Lords voted for the UK to adopt a net zero goal. It will become law this week making the UK the first major economy to declare it will halt its contribution to global warming.
The vote came as 16,000 campaigners called on Parliament to rapidly accelerate decarbonisation efforts - by the way I hope those of you who were there checked your placards into the cloakroom.
When BusinessGreen launched its Net Zero Now campaign a year ago we had no idea how quickly the pursuit of full decarbonisation would become both mainstream thinking and legislative reality. As our new Towards Net Zero Report, which we launched today, makes clear the net zero transition is now a defining priority for thousands of leading businesses right across the UK. They understand the times are changing.
A year ago, no one had heard of Greta Thunberg. And now an entire global youth movement is demanding climate action.
A year ago, no one thought the public would ever list environmental action as one of its top priorities. And now green engagement is at its highest level since polls began.
A year ago, everyone was desperately waiting for the government to come up with a credible Brexit strategy. And now… well you can't have everything.
Please reconvene here next year, when I will no doubt tell that joke again.
The fact is that after years of hard work the green zeitgeist has been both generated and seized.
To adapt the old Hemingway quote about bankruptcy, how did this change happen? 'Two ways: gradually, then suddenly'.
The foundations for this overnight success were laid over decades by you and your peers around the world.
You provided the electric vehicles and the solar panels and the science based targets and the carbon capturing innovation and the coal-free summers and the circular resource flows and the offshore wind farms and the green communications campaigns and the sustainable investments and the zero waste factories and the sheer bloody-minded commitment that was so desperately needed.
The case studies provided by so many of the organisations that are being deservedly recognized here tonight gave politicians and the public the essential evidence that deep decarbonisation is both possible and desirable.
In many ways this week's net zero victory is your victory.
And yet tonight's celebrations are tempered by some chilling realities. Global emissions are still rising. Green investment is lagging. We are not on track to meet our admirable environmental goals.
The green economy remains a hot mess.
Not sartorially - you all look lovely.
But the tangle of conflicting policies and competing investment signals combines with hugely disruptive sustainable technologies and emerging markets to create a uniquely disorientating environment in which businesses have to operate.
Meanwhile, each and every day it seems the era-defining progress made by the green economy is hindered by an undercurrent of populist authoritarianism. A Trumpist playbook that responds to the climate crisis by questioning its existence before then enacting the most regressive, divisive, counter-productive, human rights-shredding, reality-denying policies possible. Policies that you could describe as stupid or self-defeating or short sighted, but which above all else are just plain cruel.
Some days it is hard to escape the feeling we are on, or perhaps over, the brink into a deeply cynical, polluting, and immensely dangerous new era.
Which is why I have to say a heartfelt thank you.
The day I sat down to read your entries for these awards was the day the UK was meant to leave the EU - the first time around.
It was the same week as a terrifying report had been released on the epic scale of the climate crisis, although to be fair that doesn't really narrow it down because every week there is a terrifying report about the epic scale of the climate crisis.
And there were fascists campaigning on the streets of this great city.
Now there were plenty of good people on Whitehall that day who were understandably upset the promise to leave the EU had been broken. But there were also actual fascists actually campaigning on the actual streets of London.
Suffice to say whichever side of the Brexit debate you are on, the one thing most of the country could agree on was that it was a pretty bleak end to a pretty bleak week.
And then I sat down and started to read your entries for these awards.
I read about renewables projects and recycled roads. I read about inspiring campaigns and inspirational leaders. I read about smart grids and even smarter investments. I read about projects that are providing the cleanest of energy to the poorest of households and teams that are working to solve the most intractable of problems.
That is not to say the green economy is perfect - far from it. The net zero transition we are all embarked upon is uniquely challenging and will inevitably contain a multitude of controversies, disagreements, and false starts.
But that day I read about organisations that are striving to make the world a better place.
I read about a movement that is often self-consciously reluctant to speak in these terms, but is above all else about the defence and advancement of enlightenment values.
A community - and for all the competitive tensions, it is a community - that understands instinctively the wisdom of Edmund Burke's evergreen observation that "society is but a contract between the dead, the living and those yet to be born".
A contract that takes in our legacy as the crucible of a global industrial revolution, our duty to protect people today from poverty and pollution, and our responsibility to provide future generations with a safe and functioning biosphere.
Above all I read that day about a sector imbued with an immense overwhelming optimism and an undeniable sense of fun.
I've recently been listening to a lot of Bruce Springsteen - don't judge me, you reach a certain age and it is as inevitable as aching knees and receding hair.
In his recent Broadway show Springsteen reflected on his song-writing process and how his goal, right from the start, was to tell stories that celebrated and honoured the beauty and power of American society and provided a "critical voice when that was what the times called for".
He explained that "from when I was a very young man, I took my fun very seriously". He ended by imploring his audience to remember "the future is not yet written".
I like that. "I took my fun very seriously". "The future is not yet written".
We are collectively engaged in one of the most serious projects ever embarked upon. The creation of a net zero emission economy in the space of a single career span.
It is a daunting responsibility that we all must bear. Decisions taken now will resonate through centuries.
They could light the path towards a terrifying future of runaway climate change and all the dark political forces that unleashes, or a world of near unending abundance, peace, and prosperity.
That is our generation's contract with the future.
When you consider that contract it can be overwhelming - and some days it is. But there is another way of looking at it. It is also a truly amazing time to be alive.
To be able to play a role - however small - in such a serious moment in humanity's history? There's got to be some camaraderie, some celebration, some fun, to be had in that.
And that is what tonight's awards are all about. A chance to applaud work that is even more important and inspiring than I suspect you realise. You can be heroes. It might even be worth missing Love Island for.
So thank you.
Thank you to our judges for their time and expertise.
Thank you to our charity partner Wildnerness Foundation, who you will be hearing more from later.
Thank you to the team at BusinessGreen for all the hard work that goes in to hosting this evening's ceremony.
Thank you to our guests from Parliament who helped deliver that net zero target this week.
Thank you to our host, the brilliant Rachel Parris.
But most of all thank you to all of you.
Thank you for your support of BusinessGreen. It is only through evenings such as this evening that we are able to invest in providing the award-winning journalism I hope you all enjoy.
Thank you for your inspiring entries. You really, genuinely cheered me up.
And if you end up slightly disappointed tonight, as some people must in these most competitive of awards, then, y'know, be cool.
Most of all though, thank you for all that you do.
It is hard, serious work, but I hope you agree it can be fun too. And on the days when the work seems a little too much - and we all experience those days - remember, "the future is not yet written".
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