Harald Friedl is an Adviser & Lead Special Projects for the UN Climate Change Conference — @COP26. For the last 15 years he has worked in the field of societal change through organizations such as the UN, impact organizations such as Impact Hub or circular systemic change accelerators like Circle Economy. You can find him on Twitter or Instagram.
What are the main challenges for impact organizations that you work in or with have when addressing the Climate Crisis in 2020?
In the impact or purpose sector, like the business sector, has competitive thinking and not abundance thinking. How can we have radical collaboration and transparency to think about the broader remit of the positive impact that we want to have on the world — not only for finance and business, but energy? We need to get rid of these self-limitations.
At a business and operational level, it’s always the same things: scale of the problem is too big and these are small teams. This is why I chose to work with the Circle Economy on a growth path, so that as we grew we could integrate better and have a more comprehensive offering for partners.
Another challenge is that donors often have a short-term horizon, so when we onboarded partners you clear checks and align values. Often these conversations don’t happen often enough at the beginning.
Finally, HR is a challenge because there are good people in the business sector who are getting so much more money structurally. It’s difficult to incentivise them to come to the impact sector. Sometimes there are necessities, for example when you have to pay back your student loans. They’re just there, the economic necessities for people and you can’t disregard them.
Are there any particular approaches that you personally take to overcome these challenges?
I try to incorporate this into who I am and how I behave. Looking for additionality and radical collaboration isn’t always easy. When looking to collaborate with someone, it’s with the thought in mind that you have to be willing to give up a certain program if it does not fit. There needs to be this honesty when going into partnerships and working together to look for that additionality.
To do this, I set aside time to forge partnerships every day, every week. I make time for that to build relationships and find leaders who are willing to live in a different paradigm.
What would you say are the key factors that have shaped public and political discourse in Europe (or the global community) about the Climate Crisis?
In previous years, it was dominated by the environmental angle, which means the debate was limited and social justice issues were also not brought into this.
Now Corona has upped the game. Now we have a unique opportunity to bring these big debates together, build back competitively, but combined with a green recovery. This is an opportunity to build back better, using a low carbon, competitive future.
Now, you see business falling in line. Cities are supporting this strongly, countries even. Morocco is now incentivising electric vehicles, taking back subsidies for fossil fuels. Sweden’s government also organised a stakeholder processes that came up with low carbon roadmaps for different sectors.
Can you share how you have helped to change industry approaches through the Circle Economy’s programme focus areas or your latest work with the Global Climate Action Champions Team?
In the Global Climate Action Champions Team and previously at Circle Economy, I try to shape systems. The problems of the times are systemic. They cannot be solved by a player. They can only be solved if they so engrained in our interests and the polciies that we have, that it changes our behaviour.
I work with partners on simplifying how we look at systems change. How can we use the five pillars of supply, demand, the policy angle, finance and investment, and enabling environment? If you tackle all five at the same time, it will automatically force us to bring all stakeholders to the table. That’s when we can think about commitments. You have to build the whole system, not just one sector.
We make targets that are approachable in ten years and three to five years because we need players to take action now.
What are your hopes for moving towards a circular economy? What are some actions that organizations you’ve worked with have taken that needs to be adopted by other industries over the next five years?
We have to have hope. But we have to pair it with action. It includes the big reports, the global campaigns. We are also seeing action coming from cities and city networks, using the net zero by 2050 as a carbon guidepost. Austria, Holland, Norway have expressed interest and Holland says they want to be circular by 2050.
We also need to get finance flows going. When financial institutions open up, such as Black Rock saying that it is investing more in sustainability. Financial centres like London and New York are moving and when funds begin to de-invest from fossil fuels, driving that investment to more sustainable fuels.
Looking to solutions, what would you say policy makers, private companies, and philanthropists need to focus on for the coming months?
Analysis and speaking the same language. If the different people and players keep talking about the same things in different ways, it’s not really useful. We need to collaborate better.
Everyone’s talking about collaboration, but where are the resources set aside for that? As long as there are no resources set aside for that, there isn’t really any change or thinking about how we get additionality and abundance from real collaboration.
Start from a benchmark. Let’s say this is the analysis and then include all stakeholders. We need to move away from a paradigm of scarcity to abundance, so everyone’s not fighting for their own space.
The circular economy is one good approach, but we need many more. We need to combine new approaches to drive the system in a clear direction towards net zero emissions, enable good jobs, offer just and safe spaces for people. We need our economy to work for the planet, not the other way around. If people can bring the four pillars of leadership, community additionality, and abundance into their paradigm, we can move forward together.