In the first week of July, thousands of members of the public, politicians, corporates, NGOs and journalists descended on the beautiful Hanseatic town of Visby, on Gotland's Baltic coast. The summer heatwave had started early in Sweden, and the parched landscape gave us all a brutal reminder of our reason for being there.

We were attending the 50th annual Almedalen gathering in Sweden, which hosts over 30,000 people in free and open sessions to discuss the political and societal issues of the day.

South Pole Sweden ran a US Independence Day Seminar on July 4th to a packed room at Almedalen 2018, starting with President's Trump's controversial pullout from the Paris climate agreement.

Our policy expert, Jeff Swartz, reflected that ironically this is having a galvanising effect on states and cities, but stressed that there are no grounds for complacency as there are still huge uncertainties and many of the rules for national action are yet to be negotiated.

Panellist Ingmar Rentzhog, founder of the 'We Don't Have Time' campaign, discussed the growing use of social media by the public to encourage governmental policy change and action.

The current policy vacuum makes business leadership all the more important to fill the emissions reduction gap and help meet the Paris Agreement's goals – namely, to limit average planetary warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and aim for 1.5°C.

Our panel of distinguished sustainability implementers discussed their low-carbon motivations and agendas.

Lene Mi Ran Kristiansen of turbine blade manufacturer, LM Wind Power, explained that the company's recent Clean LM programme was initiated by the company's former CEO, Marc de Jong, as a strong leadership statement to drive efficiencies and remain competitive.

The Clean LM initiative involves energy efficiency, 100% renewable power, Climate Neutral offsets, and a communication campaign across 15 manufacturing sites and operations. There is also the potential for it to spread to other areas within GE Renewables, of which LM Wind Power is a part.

Tetrapak is another corporate climate action leader that has been pioneering sustainability in the bio-products sector for decades. Sustainability director, Erik Lindroth, shared the company vision and action, including its circular economy principles for the manufacture of its cardboard packaging, approved science-based targets (SBTs – aligning carbon reduction goals with the 2ºC pathway), and commitment to 100% renewable electricity by 2030.

In the transport sector, Skanska has been at the forefront of action. Sustainability manager for Sweden, Johan Gerklev, explained that they are on a long-term journey to create buildings and civil infrastructure with near-zero environmental impacts and reduced long-term operating costs. So successful are Skansa's efforts that they have been appointed to drive an approach across the whole of Sweden's transport sector to meet a 40% reduction target by 2020.Both Skansa and Tetrapak have also committed to contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Philip Thörn, the Sustainability Manager of If Life Insurance described how they are using research to better understand the risks and opportunities of climate change, including regulations, the physical environment and socio-economics. Staffan Hansén, CEO of SPP Pension had a similar long term perspective, with the impact of climate change being felt through the investment agenda and affecting long term business sustainability.

Our Almedalen panel showcased Scandinavian corporates that are well-advanced on their sustainability journeys.

These businesses recognise that positive climate action reduces the costs and seizes the opportunities of a low-carbon economy, differentiates them from competitors, and delivers efficiency. It also reduces the risks of a warming world, such as disruptions to supply chains.

More broadly, changing stakeholder agendas, such as the investor-led reporting framework of the TCFD (Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures), and customer and employee expectations are also making this transition inevitable, so businesses acting early maintain their competitive advantage. Often, however, there is a gap between commitment and action. Despite over 450 businesses committing to SBTs, a recent responsible business trends report showed that only a quarter of respondents have actually set them.

Wherever businesses are on their sustainability journey, they should look for leaders and follow the guiding light from Almedalen to Paris.

Charles Henderson is the Head of Corporate Climate Risks and Opportunities at South Pole.

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