At long last business has come to the table and entered into a serious discussion on the sustainability challenges we are facing, says Yolanda Kakabadse.
Yolanda Kakabadse
WWF International
“The creation of the Global Compact has allowed actors to begin a process of building trust, and trust is at this
moment in time one of the key elements in building a better, greener, more positive future.”

“I don’t know whether the word ‘finally’ is strong enough?” Yolanda Kakabadse says. A piercing gaze travels undisturbed across half the world via the video-link to underline her words. It is not without humour – but it leaves little doubt that the word is probably not strong enough to express the impatience with which Kakabadse has been waiting for businesses to really come to the table and discuss climate change. Now they are there – finally.

“The corporate sector has understood that they need to partner with other sectors and organizations to face our current threats related to climate change. They understand now that it’s not a question of success or growth. Their own survival depends on both their ability to digest and incorporate the scientific knowledge into their businesses and their capacity to be a strong ally of the multilateral system. They know that they are crucial, but they can’t do it alone,” she says.

Kakabadse has been President of WWF International since 2010. She has held executive positions in national and international NGOs for more than 35 years and has had a stint as Minister for the Environment in her home country of Ecuador. From that vantage point, she has seen how business has been slow in reacting to the threat of climate change, but over the past ten to fifteen years, something has happened. Trust has been built and barriers have been broken down, not least because of the UN Global Compact.

“The corporate sector was very suspicious about working with government, with civil society and with the UN. The creation of the Global Compact has allowed these actors to begin a process of building trust, and trust is at this moment in time one of the key elements in building a better, greener, more positive future,” says Kakabadse.

“Engaging business in sustainable development is vital because the private sector holds the key to change,” she says. Private actors bring knowledge, technology and finance, and in the past few years businesses – or at least some businesses – have entered the global debate on climate change policy as some of the most vocal supporters of a global carbon tax and of raising the bar on emission cuts. Asked where the momentum for change was created during these years, Kakabadse answers unequivocally: “in the business sector”.

“No doubt about that. The positive and negative impacts on resources, land, water, air and energy are mainly created, addressed and managed by the business sector. Their ability to understand that their impact is the main driver of good or bad, of the destruction or conservation of vital resources, is essential in the process of change. Without the private sector’s willingness to take action, government and civil society will be at a loss,” she says.

It is not just with regard to climate change that Kakabadse sees business stepping up. She mentions the CEO Water Mandate, a UN Global Compact initiative, as an  example of business engaging wholeheartedly in finding solutions to global problems in collaboration with other stakeholders.

“In the CEO Water Mandate, we have seen what a build-up of trust can do. It has created a strong alliance between very different stakeholders by having them work together on guidelines for policies and for operations on the ground. It’s very
down-to-earth and we have experienced the corporate actors in this initiative to be really serious about taking into account our guidance and criticisms to rethink their behaviours,” she says.

“However, it’s not all goodwill and far-sighted leadership. A major factor in the process of building trust has been the rise of information and communication technologies and the transparency they have enforced on all stakeholders,” says Kakabadse.

“No organization – whether it’s a government, a business or a civil society group – can keep secrets any more. If you want to be in the global arena and to succeed in the future, then you have to be transparent and that has revolutionized the way that stakeholders commit to change. They are fulfilling their promises because if they don’t they are cheating and with social media it means that it will soon be evident to all. A lack of transparency is no longer acceptable and can no longer go unnoticed – as all organizations are subject to public scrutiny,” she adds.


The coming years will force many businesses to focus on how they manage critical resources. For Kakabadse, water is top of the list of critical resources. And she thinks it could very well move from being a resource issue to become a security issue.

“I believe that in the next few years more than a few actors will recognize that this is a security issue and a real threat to peace and security – not just a question of a better quality of life,” says Kakabadse.