Flying Dutch man’s mission to unite firms over climate change

Paul Polman is known as a leading voice on sustainable capitalism. (AFP)
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Updated 23 January 2020

Flying Dutch man’s mission to unite firms over climate change

  • Polman has set his sights on using his sway among business chiefs, governments, finance and civil society to get them to work together on climate change and making economies fairer for everyone

DAVOS: While global leaders take to the stage at Davos in the Swiss Alps, one of the world’s most prominent businessmen is busy behind the scenes — trying to bring together the heads of major companies to tackle climate change and inequality.

Paul Polman became known as a leading voice on sustainable capitalism while running consumer goods giant Unilever for 10 years, and is a regular at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting for the global elite in the upmarket ski resort.

Since retiring from Unilever a year ago, Polman has set his sights on using his sway among business chiefs, governments, finance and civil society to get them to work together on climate change and making economies fairer for everyone.

“If you can bring about 25 percent of the industry together across the value chain, you can create tipping points, and that accelerates things,” Dutch businessman Polman, 63, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview at a Davos hotel.

His new sustainability consultancy, Imagine, set up last year, scored a major victory by organizing a fashion industry pact to announce at the G7 summit in France in August.

The pact involves 62 major fashion companies striving to use sustainable cotton, cut out single-use plastics, and align their businesses with the Paris climate pact to address global warming.

Now Polman wants to convene similar agreements in the food and land sector, tourism and travel, technology and finance, saying these companies had the biggest impact on the UN’s global goals to address inequality and climate change.

He was optimistic an agreement was achievable fairly quickly in the food industry, where he is already well connected as chairman of the Food and Land Use Coalition.

“They all want to be part of it ... six months from now we’ll have a substantial group in the food sector,” he said.

Polman said leaving Unilever had actually given him greater influence to change things for the better.

“As a CEO you had shackles around your legs,” said Polman, who has taken a leading role on a powerful list of bodies including chair of the International Chamber of Commerce.

With global challenges growing, governments could not be relied on, he said, adding that chief executives were starting to step up with bolder initiatives.

He cited Microsoft’s pledge to go carbon-negative by 2050 by removing carbon it has emitted over the past 45 years, and asset manager BlackRock saying it will stop investing in companies with a “high sustainability-related risk.”

“Things are happening at a faster pace than perhaps people think, but the multilateral process is difficult,” he said.

He pointed to disappointment over the recent COP25 climate talks, deforestation rising in Brazil under President Jair Bolsonaro, the US administration quitting the Paris pact, and the Australian government’s reaction over bushfires and climate change.

But there was greater awareness at Davos this year about the need to act, including a commitment to plant one trillion trees to curb climate-heating emissions, he said. “The initiatives are becoming bigger and bolder. Is this enough? No, because you cannot change the world without governments’ buy-in,” he added.


Briton jailed for coughing at policeman while claiming to have coronavirus

Updated 01 April 2020

Briton jailed for coughing at policeman while claiming to have coronavirus

  • Adam Lewis, 55, was convicted of assault over the incident, during which he claimed to have the virus and told a policeman I am going to cough in your face
  • The police constable, who was on cycle patrol in the central London borough of Westminster, had approached Lewis after being alerted to suspicious activity

LONDON: A man who coughed at a police constable and threatened to infect him with the coronavirus has been jailed for six months, London’s Metropolitan Police said on Wednesday.
Adam Lewis, 55, was convicted of assault over the incident, during which he claimed to have the virus and told the policeman “I am going to cough in your face and you will get it” then coughed directly at the officer.
The police constable, who was on cycle patrol in the central London borough of Westminster, had approached Lewis and asked to search him after being told by a member of the public that he was trying to open the doors of cars parked along the street.
As well as threatening and coughing at the officer, Lewis also smashed a bottle of wine on the floor during the incident, and threatened to bite in order to transmit an infectious disease.
“While these type of assaults are thankfully a rare occurrence, this incident was horrendous and if we do encounter this type of unacceptable behavior we will be robust in our response,” said Chief Superintendent Helen Harper of the Metropolitan Police’s Area West Command Unit.