On Dec. 1, a diverse set of leaders—including an indigenous activist fighting oil drilling, a car manufacturer, a fashion designer, and a shipping magnate—sat down together for dinner in Dubai for the same purpose: to speak about how they can better work together to address global climate change. At the dinner, which honored those on the first TIME100 Climate list, speakers emphasized the urgency of climate solutions, and the importance of business leaders collaborating to address their shared problem.
“We really need many champions, you, many others, to get together, form new alliances, and scale solutions that we know exist,” said Mafalda Duarte, executive director of the Green Climate Fund, the largest dedicated multilateral climate finance institution.
A major theme of the evening was the importance of listening to Gen Z, and giving them space and resources to enact change. William McDonough, an renowned green architect and the chief executive of McDonough Innovation, compared the effort to reach net zero by 2050 with the effort to put humanity on the moon. It was young engineers, he said, who helped NASA reach the moon in just six years, by asking, “Why should it take that long?”
“If we’re supposed to be net zero by 2050, why should it take that long?” said McDonough. “Let them loose, let them run, and give them one simple instruction: follow the laws of nature.”
Lara Abrash, chair of Deloitte U.S., echoed that sentiment, telling the audience, “My challenge to all of us is not to just be leading at the top but to unleash the people under us. There are thousands and millions of people that know what needs to happen. Stop tamping them down. If you’re a leader of a company, let those young people come in feel they have the ability to drive the change.”
Others also emphasized the importance of empowering local environmental efforts. Jennifer Morris, CEO of the Nature Conservancy, described the story of Helder Zahluth Barbalho, the governor of the Brazilian state Para, who is working to stop illegal deforestation by the cattle industry. “All of us have to help these champions. These leaders like all of you in this room, to do what has traditionally seemed impossible,” Morris said.
In one of the most powerful speeches of the evening, Waorani leader Nemonte Nenquimo, the co-founder of the non-profits Amazon Frontlines and Ceibo Alliance and an advocate for the end of oil drilling in the Amazon, urged the audience to respond to the climate crisis quickly and aggressively, as if the Earth is their literal home.
“I want everyone here to take a moment to think about the Earth as your home, as your house, as the house that you live in. What would you do if your house was being destroyed? Would you just sit back and let that happen?” said Nenquimo, via a translator.
Martin Lundstedt, president and CEO the Swedish carmaker Volvo Group, doubled down on the call for urgency, noting that the TIME100 Climate should instead be called “the No Time 100, because we have no time. Speed will be the ultimate currency.” Academia, business, and government, he added, “need to work together better than machines.”
In her speech, British fashion designer Stella McCartney, whose brand is owned by luxury giant LVMH, spoke about the environmental harms caused by the fashion industry, which her team attempts to reduce by developing non-plastic, stable vegan leathers made from rubber; enzymes that break down polyesters; and completely circular parkas. Still, McCartney suggested that legislative action is necessary to reform her industry, telling the audience, “If anyone here can help me change laws in our industry, we’re pretty unpoliced!”
Representing another high-emitting industry, Takeshi Hashimoto, the president and CEO of the major Japanese shipping company MOL, also spoke about the importance of industrial, financial and government partners to achieve sustainability. While MOL is working to transition to green energy vessels, “it is not enough. We need to develop many, many new technologies. We need ethanol. We need ammonia. Hydrology,” Hashimoto said.
Overwhelmed but not discouraged, Jesper Brodin, CEO of Ingka Group, the biggest IKEA retailer, remarked that “I never in my life experienced such a mix of deep emotions being deeply worried… At the same time my optimism is growing.”
In between speeches, attendees dined and mingled, in hopes of sparking some of that collaborative energy. And in the final speech of the evening, Jamila Saidi, the global head of digital commerce, retail, and luxury for the United Kingdom’s Department of International Trade, emphasized the important role the private sector must play in fighting climate change.
“Global trade,” she said, “has a major role to play in the green transition.”
TIME100 Impact Dinner: Leaders Creating Climate Action was sponsored by Amazon, Deloitte, the UK Department for Business and Trade, and MOL.