A Shakespearean guide to how firms tackle climate change

“ALL THE world’s a stage,” wrote William Shakespeare in his monologue, “The Seven Ages of Man”. Centuries later, that stage is on fire, to paraphrase Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate-change activist who delivered a raw message to titans of industry in Davos this year that their companies were helping stoke the blaze.

It is not just Ms Thunberg who is wagging the finger of blame. Central bankers, shareholders, customers and employees are urging firms to take bolder action to tackle climate change. In some boardrooms, the message is sinking in; to date 210 firms collectively worth more than $6trn, ranging from carmakers (like Renault) to confectioners (such as Mars), have committed to “science-based targets” to cut their carbon footprint in line with the internationally agreed goal of limiting global warming to 2ºC or less relative to pre-industrial levels. Using data from CDP, which tracks firms’ climate disclosures, Schumpeter has developed (with stacks of poetic licence) a Shakespearean guide to climate action, from denial to reluctant engagement to bold ambition.

Start with the infant “mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms”. That, broadly speaking, is the fossil-fuel industry. For the past three decades it has kicked and screamed against efforts to halt global warming even as its products have added...

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