Redefining social licence in a post COVID-19 landscape – placing climate action at the heart of our recovery

We are bombarded with information and insight on the COVID-19 outbreak from rolling news updates to daily press conferences. As we look back at April, National Grid reported drops of 10% in power demand was a result of the lockdown. This prompted a warning for wind farms and interconnectors to be on standby to ease up supply and hydro-electric installations to potentially need to consume surplus energy.

We saw scare mongering that construction site closures would create a shortage of biomass for power stations. We also saw headlines showing that we were breaking new records for renewables penetration and not requiring coal to generate energy for homes. Perhaps this momentary hiatus of daily life has been one of the strongest demonstrations that our low carbon transition is working.

It’s clear that organisations will now focus on developing resilient operating models and will be less reliant on imported supply chains sources. This will require changes to operating processes and the way in which our energy system works. Stakeholders will need to be informed, educated and brought along on the journey of why, and how developments will operate in the future. Communications will need to resonate with relevant and impacted stakeholders but also bring positivity and realism following the sustained period of negativity. This will ensure support and understanding throughout the asset’s life and minimises the chances of opposition through misunderstanding.

In our lockdown routines, the UK is taking the opportunity to have a lie in and as a result are seeing a fifth less electricity being used at 07.30 each workday. But when we can return to work, we will see a raft of stimulus packages to boost recovery across the globe.

In previous recessions we have seen the stimulating role of oil and gas in a rapid economic recovery. Research from the LSE found that only 16% of stimulus plans in 2008 focused on low carbon technologies. However, a recent report from the University of Oxford found that investment in ‘green projects’ – ones that reduce emissions – are the most cost-effective way to boost economies hit by COVID-19.

This report noted that COVID-19 has given us the chance to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to integrate long-term, climate-focused criteria into national recovery plans. To take this opportunity energy developments and investment programmes will need to hardwire a strong and compelling narrative into their communications to communities, stakeholders and influencers to ensure they are positioned as relevant, responsible and sustainable in our recovery as we enter a global economic recession. Communications will need to be impactful and fundamentally interesting.

This is echoed by the International Monetary Fund calling governments for a harmonised approach to fiscal pandemic recovery measures with the imperative to ‘combat’ climate change and ensure an environmentally sustainable recovery. A contributing factor to this is that energy technologies have also moved on. Many vital components for building a clean energy future are more mature and ready to scale up when compared to a decade ago.

As we emerge from the lockdown, industries will be clamouring for support from investors as well as state-aid from governments. Industries will try to reconnect with customers. Amongst this noisy landscape of propositions competing for attention, clear communications that are authentic will cut through this noise and connect with the stakeholders that matter.

However, currently, the gap between promises and implementation is huge in the Paris Accord commitments. Before the pandemic we saw early adopters in the energy sector commit to Net Zero carbon pledges but can COVID-19 be the paradigm shift that is needed to set us on a track to meet the Paris accord limits? The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has advised the UK Government for climate action to be placed at the heart of an economic rebuild following COVID-19.

The postponement of COP26 in the UK should be the wake-up call for governments to offer financial lifelines to carbon-intensive companies with strings attached. These strings should include strong commitments to reduce carbon emissions and to commit to low carbon recoveries. Organisations will need to make their corporate voices and narrative authentic and responsible to ensure they engage with the right stakeholders and can progress on their recovery post-COVID.

Madano advises clients in the energy and infrastructure sectors adapting to the impacts of COVID-19 and transitioning to lower carbon operating models – if you’re interested in learning more please drop me or the team a line. You can also follow Madano on Twitter.

Blog written by Andrew Turner, Senior Account Director, Madano (Energy & Environment).