July 10, 2024

Climate change governance and the board chair of the future: Accelerating the transition toward a low-carbon future

By Anna Marks, Deloitte Global Chair and Jennifer Steinmann, Deloitte Global Sustainability & Climate Practice Leader.

Chairs today face a highly volatile world, between the impacts of climate change, geopolitical uncertainty, and emerging technologies like generative artificial intelligence. They are challenged now more than ever to strike a delicate balance between addressing immediate challenges and ensuring the long-term success of their organizations. The multifaceted nature of climate-related challenges requires relentless focus from the board, with the board chair playing a critical role as the leader of the board, strategic partner to management, and as ambassador and tone-setter for the organization.

Many chairs are seeking tangible strategies and leading practices to bolster sustainability and climate initiatives and to effectively tie climate actions to business outcomes.

This 2024 “Chair of the Future” article, brought to you by the Deloitte Global Boardroom Program, is based on thoughtful conversations with over 200 board chairs worldwide, who have generously shared their ideas, hopes, and insights into the challenges they face. We aim for this article to provide chairs with an expansive perspective on how their counterparts are navigating the climate change agenda, stakeholder interests, and management oversight.

Since climate change is a challenge we each—individually and collectively—face, there’s no reason to go at it alone. Chairs, boards, and C-suite leaders should develop and nurture strategic relationships to help their organizations—and the world—move forward courageously. Engaging across the wider ecosystem, including organizations across almost all industries, suppliers, governments, regulators, nongovernmental organizations, social innovators, employees, and investors, is necessary to drive bold action, collective stewardship, and change.

Right now, chairs and their boards face the imperative to retain and enhance their focus on the climate challenge, and to act now so that climate action is a part of key strategic and operational board focus areas and considered on both a near-term and long-term basis—not just as an exercise in compliance.

It’s true that the impacts of many sustainability- and climate change–related goals are expected to felt over medium to long term. However, it’s imperative that boards maintain their focus—and management’s—to help protect organizations from risk and drive value, all while managing stakeholder expectations.

Boards and their chairs should balance long-term ambitions for sustainable growth and prosperity with short-term performance expectations. This is not an easy balance, but one that chairs of the future will likely need to lead on.

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