I never imagined that my time at Duke would end with talking about pressing climate issues with the president of a major energy company, a U.S. senator, and the CEO of a climate accelerator all in one week—but it did! Through my two and a half years at Duke earning a dual MEM/MBA degree between Fuqua and the Nicholas School of the Environment, the central question I have been grappling with is how to get business to become a driving force in addressing the climate crisis.

Sometimes it feels thankless to be a climate professional in business because you catch flak from both sides; the environmental community remains skeptical of corporations, and the business community does not always see climate action as a priority. As one of 16 Duke students to attend the annual Conference of Parties (COP) conference held by the United Nations in Dubai, I’m happy to say I experienced the private sector coming out in full force to participate in the global forum for cooperation on climate action.

The theme of this year’s COP was “global stocktake,” meaning the parties accounted for and presented progress towards the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement during COP21 in 2015. In honor of COP28, I decided to do some stocktaking of my own.

Key Takeaways from COP28

As the designated private-sector representative of the Duke delegation, I spent ten days following McKinsey & Co. (my future employer) at the conference. It was fascinating to see how businesses engage in an arena previously reserved for public policy.

The McKinsey & Co. booth at COP28 in Dubai
McKinsey booth at the COP28 Knowledge Hub, December 2023

McKinsey hosted three or four events daily which consisted of keynote speakers and panels featuring business and NGO leaders. Each day at COP28 had a different theme (e.g., energy and industry, urbanization and built environment), and McKinsey’s events largely followed the theme. Attendees heard directly from executives in the oil and gas, energy, transportation, agriculture, and various other sectors. I was impressed with the clarity, ambition, and focus on collaboration echoed by each speaker.

Large multinational corporations spoke about the scale of their operations, their ability to work quickly and transcend national borders, and the opportunity to push change through their supply chain through the power of their procurement organizations. Private equity, venture capital, and startups had one message: full steam ahead.

Reflecting on Valuable Lessons from Fuqua

After surviving ten days of high-intensity climate discussions, I am happy to report that Duke University has taught me well. In just two years, I have learned about the science of energy systems, climate policy, and business strategy. Courses like Climate, Sustainability and Corporate Governance taught by Professor Dan Vermeer and Business and Common Purpose taught by Professor Ronnie Chatterji fostered inspiring conversations about the role of business in society, giving me the confidence to engage in similar conversations at COP28.

I am thankful for the work of Fuqua’s Center for Energy, Development and the Global Environment (EDGE) for being a pioneer in MBA climate education. (Shameless plug: keep an eye out for my upcoming paper, “Climate Policy: What Every MBA Needs to Know,” to be published in spring 2024!) EDGE and my dual degree classmates make Fuqua the most exciting place to study business and the environment. I am lucky to be part of a cohort that takes pride in being interdisciplinary and talking about the big issues that we decide to tackle as professionals.

Looking forward, I would love to represent McKinsey at a future COP. With any luck, the next blog post I publish will be on my return flight from Azerbaijan in 2024, or Brazil in 2025.