Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Mr. Eamon Ryan TD, was the keynote speaker at Matheson’s ESG Summit, Sustainable ESG: Charting the Road Ahead this week. The virtual summit, with attendees from Ireland, the UK, Europe and the US, saw business leaders from AIB, Microsoft, Smurfit Kappa, Brookfield Renewable (in the process of being re-named as Ørsted) and FTI Consulting, give their insights into the key challenges and opportunities for businesses in adapting to ESG changes. A snapshot poll of attendees revealed that two-thirds (65%) of respondents ranked ESG within the top five risks for their organisation. Consistent with this, just over half (51%) stated that their organisation had put an ESG / Climate Action Plan or Strategy in place in the past two years, and about a quarter (24%) have had a Plan or Strategy in place for more than two years. 24% do not yet have an ESG or Climate Action Plan or Strategy in place. The poll also revealed that decarbonising (58%) and compliance with reporting disclosures (57%) are the biggest challenges currently facing their businesses.
Finally, over two thirds (68%) of the audience believed that Ireland could become a leader in renewable energy, illustrating that businesses see ESG as an opportunity and not just a necessity. Indeed, respondents also envisaged opportunities for Ireland as a global leader in the areas of clean technology and in sustainable finance.
Michael Jackson, Managing Partner, Matheson said, “As we stand almost halfway through 2021, already it is shaping up to become a milestone year in the fight against climate change. Minister Ryan recently published the Climate Action Bill which, when enacted, will commit Ireland to halving emissions by 2030 and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Ireland is now on an ambitious pathway. In Europe, the Commission is forging ahead with its Green Deal to ensure that all EU countries will be climate neutral by 2050. It is working towards a new policy landscape, aimed at greening all sectors of the economy. Together with President Biden’s pledge to halve US greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, we are now witnessing tangible moves towards transformative regulatory change ahead of November’s 26th UN Climate Change Conference - COP26. As we move forward on this positive path, we must not lose sight of the monumental tasks, nor underestimate the enormity of the challenges, which lie ahead. There are many views about the correct path to take and many competing priorities. This will mean that difficult decisions require to be taken. It will be essential to ensure continued open dialogue and consultation, so that the solutions adopted are ones that will protect our planet in a manner which is truly sustainable.”
Garret Farrelly, Chair of Matheson’s ESG Advisory Group and Head of Matheson’s Energy and Natural Resources and Utilities, and its Projects and Infrastructure Groups, said, “I would like to thank our speakers for their time and participation in our inaugural ESG summit. The topics discussed by the Minister and by our two panels may have differed slightly, but they both contain the same message. ESG is here to stay and, while key challenges lie ahead, presents significant opportunities for our clients as well as our communities. What was obvious from today’s discussions is that Ireland’s leading businesses are moving forward in a strategic way to ensure that we as a business community and as a country are prepared for and can proactively engage with the direction which is being set by both the Irish Government and internationally by the European Commission and beyond.”
The Summit heard from senior business leaders from the technology, financial services, renewable power, packaging, and consulting sectors, together with members of Matheson’s ESG Advisory Group. The speakers provided their practical insights on the key challenges and opportunities for businesses in adapting to ESG changes, sectoral responses to emerging legal, regulatory and policy changes, and impacts on investment and business strategy. Over the course of two panel sessions, the speakers were: Mary Whitelaw, AIB plc; Kourtney Nelson, Microsoft Corporation; Ken Bowles, Smurfit Kappa Group plc; Ciaran O’Brien, Brookfield Renewable (in the process of being re-named as Ørsted); Jonathan Neilan, FTI Consulting and Matheson Chairperson and member of Matheson’s ESG Advisory Group, Tara Doyle.
The MC for the summit was Sally Anne Stone, Partner in Matheson’s Commercial Real Estate Department and member of Matheson’s ESG Advisory Group. Fellow ESG Advisory Group members, and Matheson partners, Susanne McMenamin and Garret Farrelly chaired the two panel discussions.