background image

Planet mission critical: finding climate trustworthy leaders

author image

By Andrea Bonime-Blanc

· 7 min read

Global climate context

The G20 met in the first week of September. The UN General Assembly and Climate Week met in the third week of September. COP28 meets in November. 

The common thread that runs through all of these meetings? The climate emergency.

The common thread that should run through all of these meetings and beyond? It is planet mission critical that the globe find and deploy climate trustworthy leaders – in every walk of life, in every sector, in every location.

The UN, and all of its public, private, social, and community-based partners worldwide, meet again at COP28 later this year. The mood isn’t great. It is alarmed and alarmist. And for very good reason: besides so many other indicators of a changing global climate, the summer of 2023 was the hottest ever recorded in human history – with July 2023 being the hottest single month ever. Let that sink in.

According to Dr. Friederike Otto, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science at the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London:

“Breaking heat records has become the norm in 2023. Global warming continues because we have not stopped burning fossil fuels. It is that simple”.


“Studies by World Weather Attribution have shown that climate change has dramatically intensified some of the most devastating weather disasters in the summer of 2023. The hot, dry, and windy conditions that fueled the wildfires in Quebec, Canada, were made at least twice as likely because of climate change. The extreme heatwaves that impacted Europe and North America were made 2-2.5°C hotter because of climate change…as long as we burn fossil fuels, these events will become more and more intense, providing ever greater barriers to adaptation.”

The most recent “Global Stocktake” Report from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change issued on September 8, 2023, states in its conclusion “The Way Forward” (emphasis mine):

“The first GST [global stock take] is taking place within an era of dramatic and widespread changes. Since its adoption, the Paris Agreement has inspired near-universal climate action, yet the global community is not on track towards achieving the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement, despite progress made. The Paris Agreement, through its design and the GST, provides the basis for further ambition in enhancing action and support to respond to the climate crisis. The first GST comes at a critical moment for accelerating collective progress. As the technical findings presented in this report show, much more action, on all fronts and by all actors, is needed now to meet the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.” 

My personal and professional contribution to this dialogue – which can be considered within the SDG 16 and SDG 17 dialogue – is to state the obvious but often not properly heeded idea that without responsible, capable, and trustworthy business, government, and social leaders at both the governance and executive levels, across entities and borders, acting in consonance now – massively and across the globe – our still gorgeous and unique planet’s prospects are dimming and darkening fast. 

Scientists are the “most trusted” humans

The aforementioned and other related climate reports are researched and written (as well as supported) by a large diversity and swath of highly trusted individuals the world over: scientists. They have been sounding alarm bells for decades – ignored by so many of us – especially entrenched, myopic, greedy and power-focused leaders in every sector but especially in the revolving door between private and public oil, gas, and extractive industries sectors.

Based on their survey of global stakeholders in 28 countries in 2023, the Edelman Trust Barometer for 2023 shows that scientists are the single most trusted category of humans on the planet (and, very significantly, “government leaders”, “journalists” and “CEOs” are the most distrusted):

Figure 1. Percent of trust in institutional leaders

Institutional leaders distrustedSource: Edelman Trust Barometer 2023

Translation? Scientists cannot do the gargantuan job of turning this planet around by themselves. It requires a literal and figurative global village led by trustworthy, cross-disciplinary global leaders.

Mission critical: finding climate trustworthy government and business leaders

In my work over the past two decades, (see the most recent The ESGT Megatrends Manual 2023-2024), I have developed a typology of ESGT (environmental, social, governance and technological) leadership in which I examine a spectrum of ESGT leadership from the most enlightened and responsible to the superficial and outright irresponsible (see Figure 2).

I consider the top two forms to be “trustworthy leadership” and the bottom two forms to be “untrustworthy leadership”.

Figure 2. The ESGT Megatrends Manual 2023-2024. Diplomatic Courier

ESGT Leadership - Trustworthiness spectrumSource: A. Bonime-Blanc.

Another angle for finding suitable environmental or climate leadership is to scan the CEOs, C-suite executives, and boards of the top Just Capital companies (focused exclusively on the biggest publicly traded companies in the US). The Just Capital rankings of U.S.-based public companies provide fertile ground to illustrate the ESGT Leadership Typology. The annual ranking looks at how companies treat five categories of stakeholders on 19 ESG issues. An analysis of the top and bottom performing companies’ leaders (executive and board) provides a rich source of data not only on the climate-savvy or unsavvy nature of these leaders but also on the value creation power of responsible to enlightened leaders and the value destruction potential of superficial and irresponsible leaders.

Applied to the global climate crisis, what this means is that each of us must play a role in identifying and deploying trustworthy climate leaders in the governmental, business and social sectors through whatever means we may have: whether it is voting in local, regional, state, federal or national elections, developing and promoting climate-conscious leaders for our businesses or making the right choices of climate-savvy leaders at the community and social levels.

Consider asking the following questions about such leaders:

  • Is leadership focused on the big picture or the little picture? Short-term or medium/long term?
  • Decision-making: is it purely economic or broader, including relevant ESGT and climate issues?
  • How inclusive or exclusive is the identification and inclusion of key stakeholders and their issues – especially the relevant climate-related issues?
  • How risk-blind or risk-savvy is senior leadership and how sophisticated is their scan of environmental issues, risks, and opportunities?
  • What does ESGT governance look like? How inclusive or exclusive? Command and control or emotionally intelligent?
  • Are values and ethical principles part of the culture and are they core to strategy and performance metrics?

Finally, consider the following guidelines (from the ESGT Megatrends Manual 2023-2024 Leadership Blueprint) as you work and/or vote and/or contribute to diminishing the severe impacts of runaway climate change:

  1. Hire leaders for their emotional intelligence. Boards and other responsible oversight bodies should do proper in-depth due diligence on potential new leaders that include (1) competence/expertise, (2) finances, tax returns, (3) reputation, and (4) psychological profile. The latter is critical because sociopaths and similar non-emotionally intelligent people should not be put in positions of power.
  2. Understand and cater to your key stakeholders. Study and solicit their views on key issues, and understand their pain points and their desires whether they are employees, customers, partners, regulators, or the media. 
  3. Engage in continuous governance refresh. The composition of oversight bodies like boards of directors and boards of trustees should be periodically (annually) reviewed through self-assessments, third-party assessments and other tools and techniques for “fitness for purpose” in our exponentially changing world. Those who no longer fit should not receive new terms. 
  4. Nurture a culture of governance, ethics and transparency. 

Build your internal culture meticulously, carefully, and deliberately to ensure that governance, ethics and transparency systems and practices are core, paramount and subject to metrics. Hold leaders—at every level but especially top management—accountable for a failure to build and maintain a strong, ethical culture.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

Did you enjoy this illuminem voice? Support us by sharing this article!
author photo

About the author

Andrea Bonime-Blanc is Founder & CEO of GEC Risk Advisory, a global governance, risk, ESG, ethics & cyber-strategist, board director, NACD 2022 Directorship100 Honoree and Life Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is author of Gloom to Boom (Routledge 2020) and the annual The ESGT Megatrends Manuals (Diplomatic Courier 2021, 2022, 2023).

Other illuminem Voices

Related Posts

You cannot miss it!

Weekly. Free. Your Top 10 Sustainability & Energy Posts.

You can unsubscribe at any time (read our privacy policy)