July 14, 2021

Ep50: Lord John Browne 'Beyond Net Zero'


Lord Browne is a Senior Advisor at General Atlantic on climate and Net Zero, providing strategic support and advice to the firm’s investment teams and portfolio companies.  

He served as Group Chief Executive of BP from 1995 to 2007, after having joined the company in 1966 as a university apprentice.

In 2007, Lord Browne joined Riverstone, where he was co-head of the world’s largest renewable energy private equity fund until 2015. He is currently Chairman of Wintershall Dea, Europe’s largest independent oil and gas company. He is independent co-Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Council on Science and Technology, Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, Chairman of the Courtauld Institute of Art, and a past President of the Royal Academy of Engineering.  

Lord Browne was the UK Government’s Lead Non-Executive Board Member from 2010 to 2015. He was knighted in 1998 and made a life peer in 2001. Lord Browne is the author of five books.

Further reading:

Lord Browne joins General Atlantic as Senior Advisor[Official Bio] (April 2021)

https://www.generalatlantic.com/media-article/lord-browne-joins-general-atlantic-as-senior-advisor-focused-on-climate-and-net-zero/

Saving the planet needs faith and science (May 2021)

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/saving-the-planet-needs-faith-and-science-v2bzrl28z

Make, Think, Imagine: Engineering the Future of Civilisation (2019)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1526605716?ie=UTF8&tag=finantimes-21&camp=1634&linkCode=xm2&creativeASIN=1526605716

Transcript

Click here for Edited Highlights

Michael Liebreich: Before we start, if you're enjoying these conversations, please make sure that you like or subscribe to Cleaning Up, it really helps other people to find us. Cleaning Up is brought to you by the Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini Foundation. Hello, I'm Michael Liebreich, and this is Cleaning Up. My guest today is Lord Browne of Madingley, John Browne. He was CEO of BP between 1995 and 2007 and he's now the senior adviser to General Atlantic on climate change, and net zero. Let's bring Lord Browne into the conversation. So, Lord Browne, John, welcome to Cleaning Up.

 

John Browne: Thank you very much. It's good to be with you.

 

ML: It's wonderful to see you, and where whereabouts are you? And how have you been spending the last 18 months or so during the pandemic?

 

JB: So, I'm in my house in Chelsea, London, I'm actually sitting in the mews house, which is my office on top of a library that I have here. And I've been here pretty well all in all for 18 months. Actually, this is a genuine setting. It's not an artificial background. And it has authenticity. And so everyone's seen it for 18 months, I have occasionally been out.

 

ML: And have you ever had in your life a period like this with so little travel, ever?

 

JB: Never, actually never. Because I even when I was born, I was born in Hamburg. And within a year, we were travelling to Denmark, and then back to Hamburg. And then my whole life. My parents were in the Far East and Middle East, and I travelled to them. So, this is the longest period I've been without travel.

 

ML: I think that goes for me as well and feels the same. It's an extraordinary, surreal period. One of the questions that I asked Tony Blair when he came on to Cleaning Up , it was episode I think 38, and we talked about the pandemic, and lessons from the pandemic for climate change, and those working on climate change. Is that something you think is a strong parallel or not?

 

JB: Well I think there are parallels, it's not necessarily a purely perfect match. But I think what it's taught us is, number one, we really can respond to a crisis. And climate change is a crisis. So, we've understood how to respond to a climate change, to a crisis. And number two, I think we've figured out that existential threats are very important. That may sound like a tautology in some ways. But it's explained to us that we need to do things when the health and life of humans is threatened. And I think we've learned that deeply. Actually, I think the surveys now show that the attention to climate change, the concern about climate change, has risen consistently over the period of the pandemic.

 

ML: But how do we deal with sort of the time asymmetry, because with the pandemic, it was happening, and people were dying, and it was a crisis, that it was very hard to deny that it's a crisis. But with climate change even there though there are the fingerprints of climate, in various natural disasters, fires, floods, storms, those sorts, but it's still, the noise still overwhelms the signal. And the really bad things won't happen until the second half of the century or even next century, just given the lags in the system. So, you say that climate is a crisis, but it's kind of a crisis which hits later. And that makes it very difficult and different, does it not?

 

JB: It does. And that's why for a long time, I said the word crisis is the wrong word. But actually, it's a crisis with a slow burn. And it's really important that we take the second lesson, I think, importantly, which is we are concerned as a human race about things that threaten our health and life. And I think that's the purpose of doing something about climate change. It is to re-quote James Lovelock, it is not about saving the earth, it is about saving humanity's place on the earth. And I think that's something we've learned. Can we do something about it in time remains to be seen. This is where great political leadership is needed, and great incentives are needed. It’s more than words, we can't just signal our virtue, we need incentives placed in front of us so the business and people can respond in the right way during the period that this crisis is really building up.

 

ML: That's right, because sometimes I feel like a character in a cartoon where the fuse has been lit to the dynamite and the character is still partying and having fun. And then something or maybe I'm the character trying to warn or working with those that are trying to warn that bad things are going to happen eventually. But it is hard to get a sense of urgency in this situation, is it not?

 

JB: Well, that's why you need great political leadership, which can be an act of incentives and disincentives to change the way in which we behave as a human race, visibly the climate or the atmosphere.

 

ML: And we'll get back to the question of leadership, I'm quite sure. But the other thing you've been doing during this last 18 months is you've taken on a new role with General Atlantic. And perhaps you could explain because our listeners will not all know who they are and what they do. But perhaps you can explain that. And then what your role is.

 

JB: Well, General Atlantic is a very long standing private equity firm headquartered in the United States, with offices all over the world. It's been at its business for over 40 years. And it's been pretty successful during those 40 years. And it was established by a billionaire who really wanted to give away most of his money. And it's had very few CEOs. And they've all come from, as it turns out, Stanford University or Stanford Business School. And it's very fine set of people. So, it's quite big. And it really is a great example of private equity in what it should be. Because it invests in growth, it doesn't invest in <inaudible>, it doesn't take CEOs and entrepreneurs and say, we'll buy you when you can get out the way, it actually works hand in hand with entrepreneurs and leaders to grow their companies. So that's General Atlantic, and they have realized that they need to do so much more to do with the climate. In particular, what are the actual things the portfolio companies are doing to damage or improve the climate? And what are they doing in the general space of ESG? In a practical way, so practical approach to ESG, practical approach to climate, and they asked me to be a senior advisor, and I accepted given the track record of the firm.

 

ML: Very good. Now I'd like to talk about that net zero. You've said it beyond net zero. I love the branding, because of course, at various points in your life you've done beyond petroleum, and then your book, not the one that I've got behind me here, but the first, I think, I believe your first book, which was Beyond Business, so there's a nice parallelism there. But let's talk about that transition to net zero. Can you characterize it? What will it look like? And where are we on the long arc from, let's say, 1990, when it was really not something that was on the cards, and then you've taken it through your period as CEO of BP, all the way through now to where we sit? Can you give us some sense of the arc of history in that transition?

 

JB: Well, let me if I may just talk about behavior, first of all, because when I took this on, I in 1997, I started at Stanford University, and gave a speech to say that the oil and gas companies are part of the problem here, we've got to stop generating carbon dioxide emissions and do something about it. And of course, at that time, I was pretty well expelled by the American Petroleum Institute that said, I had a voluntary left the church. So, I didn't quite know what church that was. However, attitudes have come a long way since then, a long, long way. I remember when I set up the Riverstone Renewable Fund, Renewable 2 in 2007. Almost everyone in private equity, for example, would say, well, they're just a bunch of tree huggers that are gonna lose all our money. It turned out actually, that fund had better performance than any oil and gas fund at that time. And it's not a good time, 07-08. But it worked out pretty well. So attitudes have changed quite a lot I would say. Where we are on a very long arc because when you look at net zero, what I think we're really trying to do is not just adjust the energy inputs, we're trying to decarbonize everything, we're trying to become more efficient in that process. So, more energy efficient, we're trying to conserve resources. And we're trying to abate and eliminate emissions while measuring all of the above. So, if you describe it like that, it actually is an industrial revolution. It's an industrial revolution. And I'm not an economic historian. But I do recall, it takes time even when coal was introduced, and it made a person 70 times more powerful than that <inaudible>. And even when gasoline was introduced, as a motor spirit, recall, it was trying to compete with electricity at the time, the first cars were electric. And the gasoline was sold on the basis, it was rather more macho than a silent electric car. So, but it took time for all of these to take off. Now, you'd expect any therefore, industrial revolution, I picked those two as important ones to take off. But the same is true, you know, with digital revolution. I mean, people have now forgotten that Thomas Watson, I think said, in regard to the computers that IBM was making at the time, there's probably room for five of them in the world. And even when I was on the board of Intel Corporation with the great Andy Grove, our aspiration was a billion connected devices, a billion. I mean, we have many, many, many fold that I mean, everything is connected, you know, trivially your fridge, but everything is connected. So, but it's taken 50 years, probably from 50 years that <inaudible> as a revolution. Now, we don't have that time. We need to accelerate it; we need to tunnel through some of the ways of doing things. And but it is the Industrial Revolution, nonetheless. Everything we do, will have to be changed in one way or other. Whether it's flying, whether it's shipping, whether it's being in your house, whether it's using a boiler or heat pump, you name it, it's got to change.

 

ML: So, this question of how quickly things can change is a fascinating one. Because that's Vaclav Smil the great economist, I think he's Bill Gates, his famous economist, favorite economist, and he is, you know, full of, of, I know, he's very scathing, about those who say that any sort of energy transition can happen quickly. But I'm very struck by within sectors and countries, things go very, very fast. So if you go from Norwegian cars, they went from 1% or 2% with plugs to 70% or 80%, with plugs in about eight years, okay, extreme example. But UK coal 42% to 2%, in six or seven years, LED light bulbs from 1% or 2% to 50% or 60% of lightbulbs in five or six or seven years. So, there's this tension between overall I think Smil right is going to take 50, 60 of your comments just now, you know, would suggest a very long transition but it's very quick, if you can be wrong footed still, as a business person, if you get it wrong, and just say it'll be slow, you can be very much wrong footed, can you not?

 

JB: Absolutely, you know, some things can be changed of course, with public policy, you know, you get the thing about public policy, it can change the speed of time <inaudible> can’t change the arrow of time, but it sort of compresses it somewhat. And you know, a set of incentives or penalties, like carbon prices, carbon taxes, capital incentive programs, you know, not taxing everything up front, but taxing at the back end, it accelerates plenty of things. Actually, a lot of these tools and techniques have been used on the oil & gas industry over a many, many years and they can be applied to many capital intensive activities, which is a lot of what the industrial revolution will involve. So, it seems to me, you know, you can make choices now, every choice you make, of course, has a consequence, you know, so it changes the total cost of an input or an output. And you've got to think carefully about is that a regressive tax or not? And is it acceptable politically? How do you do this? Is it a sin tax or not a sin tax? What is it? So, I think there are plenty of decisions to be made. And I think you can accelerate, probably a bit more of it, than we may think. Clearly, you know, we are not going to eliminate coal and gas at the flick of a switch. So, we have a choice, either we let that produce the carbon dioxide and methane, which would be we have to offset somewhere else. Or else we try and capture it all, bury the carbon dioxide, and forbid people from emitting methane, even inadvertently, from any source. Probably, we have to do both. And we should get on and do it. We know how to make carbon free hydrocarbons. It's just expensive. And maybe that's where public policy can come in, to just make that so make it so in the first instance, and then get on with the rest of the more complicated things we've got to do. We need to realize that some amount, and I, you know, it's impossible to predict how much, some amount of our energy will have to come from hydrocarbons for a reasonable number of years. Because that's where it comes 80% comes from it today. And we can't just switch it off like that the system is too big, too complex, for it to be adjusted in any way, significantly.

 

ML: So we've got much of the world which is now talking about net zero 2050. committing to in COP26 at the end of this year, in Glasgow, they're going to be lodging their nationally determined contributions, which is the formal plan that will lock that in as their goals. We've got other countries China, Brazil going for 2060. Between them that 78% of the global economy, that's a big chunk of the global economy shooting for either 2050 or 2060. Is it realistic? Is it realistic to think that the planet, the global economy can get to net zero? So net zero emissions, taking into account carbon capture, reforestation, but also dramatic reductions in emissions. If you were a betting man, which I don't think you are, which year would you think we could get there by?

 

JB: I think we could get there sometime around 2050. But the conditions to get that are rather significant. First, we have to get on now. Absolutely now. Secondly, we do have to have some form, let me say I don't believe in global government, it doesn't work, but some form of regional approach to disincentives and incentives, some form of that. And I think that's important. So, I suppose you know, COP26, will be another important leadership act. So, everyone will say we're going to do it, which is good. It's a signal which people can follow. But then we've got to think about some of the things we can do globally. And not a lot because I don't think anyone is going to allow the EU to lecture the US or the US to lecture the UK or the UK to lecture China or China to lecture Japan, everybody's going to do their own thing. But I think there are some common elements that we could get right. Not least probably the way we measure it, for example, that's probably quite important. I do think that all that sort of stuff can come out of COP26, which is at least we have a sort of level playing field of what we're actually doing. And I'm very struck by my own experience about, you know, the shambles we have at the moment on measuring or reporting methane, you know, the numbers could be up by a factor of 10. So what's the point of the number? You know, if it's up by one order of magnitude it's not very good. So that needs to be sorted out. But beyond that, you know, I think it's going to be a lot of activity, which needs to be done locally, and that means local policy, but it does need global deployment of technology. An interestingly, you know, the number, how do you really measure this number, but somewhere between 60% and 80% of the technologies we need to get the net down to net zero probably exists today. They're just not deployed at scale, which means that they are too expensive. There isn't a learning curve, the more we deploy, the more we optimize, the more we can get it right. So deploying technologies are important. And can we find ways of helping people to deploy technologies in the most polluting areas, and not waste a lot of time really trying to get up the last point 0.001% in a place, which is doing pretty well. So, you know, Kyoto tried that with this clean development mechanism. That was terrible, because the rules were basically not clear. People were taken for a ride on it basically, not good. So can we find some mechanism to do that? So, rules, deployment of technology, get rid of some barriers. Can we deploy to high, you know, high impact areas? These I think are interesting global questions. What is not interesting, is trying to enforce things globally, it's very difficult.

 

ML: Okay, so I definitely accept all of that, for those technologies, which will become, the clean technologies that will become cheaper. So, I think of it as broadly, let's call it two thirds, or three quarters of the problem will yield because ultimately, engineers are really smart and the learning curve works. And these are all, these are all technologies that yield to learning. So they’re material science, they’re software, they’re mechanical engineering, kind of at worst, which you know, the mechanical engineer, so that's fine. They're not resource sector. So, we'll see these learning curves. And that will solve a big part of the problem, I do think it will be more than half, maybe as much as three quarters, but I want to hone in on the other, let's call it quarter, the sort of the tough quarter where, with the best will in the world, the clean solution is going to cost more, I mean, natural gas is just a great way and a cheap way of heating, flying, making synthetic fuels for flying is probably going to remain more expensive than synthetic fuels. And then there's industrial processes, it might be cement, or it might be steel, or whatever, where it'll just cost more. I don't want to say forever, because that's a big word. But beyond 2050, surely, how do we make sure that those sectors get to zero? And not just in the rich countries with great, you know, political will to do this, but around the world?

 

JB: Well, the answer is, I don't know. You're right. There are some things that are just going to cost more. Can we incentivize people to innovate? The answer is, yes we can. Because who knows, maybe we can replace some steel with wood, which is made into a composite with the adhesive or bonding agent made from all seven grades of plastic recycled. You could do it today, actually, but it’s expensive and most people would also be worried that it wasn't as good as steel, but it might be. So, I think innovation will be slightly longer term, but it will create new products. And there's no point in hitting your head against a brick wall, trying to do the same thing again, and again, thinking you're getting a different answer is, as they say, a sign of madness. So, we have to find very different ways of doing things. And I think that, you know, there will be breakthroughs, I still think if we half the half, so you say 25% left, where we get half of that, there's still going to be 12.5%, which is going to be expensive. It's just going to be expensive. I agree with your flying, you know, we'll probably have to use biofuels very carefully made, you can probably make them a little bit more expensive. kerosene, but since you will have no choice. It's one of those things and flying might just get more expensive, may just get more expensive.

 

ML: Well, I'm putting mine of one of our great trips that we took together when we're on you're invited me onto the Accenture Energy Board and we went to the Oakridge National Lab and saw them essentially, researching still biofuels out of I think it was coppice willow or poplar, I think about right…

 

JB: They were trees that bent a lot. So, they were easier to manage, you know, I don’t think it went anywhere. But there are plenty of other sources. You know, if I may, for example, one of the things, almost everything you can think of in engineering is amenable to the learning curve. And to the experience curve, almost all, there's one big exception. And it's at nuclear power stations, actually, the more you build, the more expensive they become. Now, there is a reason it's changing, regulation and things like that, but also, they're very complex plants that are built on site. So if we can figure out a way, as Bill Gates is thinking, and there's plenty of work being done in the UK at the moment, about smaller, not small, smaller, and modular nuclear reactors that can be effectively built in a factory, shrink wrapped, taken to a site, site needs all sorts of <inaudible> and things like that around it, protecting your site and installed and then come back to the factory to be decommissioned, then we may have a very different approach to nuclear, which could be an interesting solution, but it's not proven and it's not licensed yet. But who knows what will happen?

 

ML: So I had a wonderful conversation about exactly this with Steven Chu, the Energy Secretary, President Obama's first Energy Secretary. And we talked about this, and it was marvelous, and it was so interesting. And then I asked him whether he thought it would produce nuclear power affordably and he essentially said no. But he thought we should try it anyway. Because of course, if you don't try, then definitely the answer is no.

 

JB: I think it would be more affordable than trying to do the same thing, again, that we've used. And these will only be amenable really, on sites where you already have the apparatus to have a reactor, we're just taking your old one away.

 

ML: But let me talk about then let's come to the oil companies, your special subject on mastermind here. But you've got BP the company that you grew, is probably if it's not the most progressive or the most if it's not in the I don't know whether the word is progressive. But if it's not leading the net zero charge, it's certainly you know, up there in the leading group. When you look at, for instance, the forecasts that they published last year, which was that the base case was for oil demand, really never to get through 100 million barrels a day and then to start declining. And then they have other cases, which are even more aggressive falls in oil. What do you think? I mean, if I can almost ask, how do you feel when you see that as the person most closely associated with having built that company?

 

JB: So I'm not surprised. We never really even when I was running BP, we never subscribed to the demand for oil going much above 100 million barrels a day, we really didn't. You know, there were lots of official forecasters through the roof. But with one thing and another, we just reminded ourselves that I think the oil intensity to unit of GDP, keeps dropping by about one and a half percent a year. And there's no reason why that shouldn't accelerate with the changes in the digital revolution and things like that which was even on the cards that and they add a bit of climate change and conservation to it, then you're going to be below 100 million. So, I think under all cases, oil is ex growth. Gas probably is ex growth later, but it's ex growth. So, the question is how, how ex growth is it? And it depends on I think things we've already talked about: can you decarbonize the hydrocarbons. If you can't, then I think policy will direct a faster decline than otherwise. So, I think one it’s ex-growth two is the rate of decline will be a function of substitution by other technologies. And that's, that takes time given the number of Joules which are produced with oil and gas. And so it's a matter of, you know, what can you do to the hydrocarbons in between not using them and using them today? So, the decline rate’s there, without any doubt.

 

ML: But if you look at Shell has just lost this court case, I've no doubt that they'll appeal and I wouldn't be surprised if they were to win the appeal, but the Dutch court for the moment has said, Shell, the plans, Shell’s net zero plans, are insufficiently aggressive, insufficiently clear. And they have to go back and come back with a plan for 45% reduction in emissions by 2030. They're going to have to sell assets, particularly, yes,  if they appeal, then 25% reduction. But if it's 45%, even more, so these all of these companies are going to have to sell assets to get there, they're not going to decommission the assets, they're going to sell them, are they not.

 

JB: They are and as a as a citizen of the world, you'd say, well, this actually does nothing for us at all. Because anyway, you know, four fifths of oil and gas are produced by state owned enterprises of one form or the other in the world, and they are on very own very different trajectory to the listed companies, which are prone to pressure, correctly so, from their investors. So, there's a two-track activity going on here anyway, so Shell, Exxon, BP, people like that. Actually, you know, even if they got closed down, chances are the rest of the world could make up for the loss of production for what we actually need. So they are important, of course, because their investments, but on a global scale, it they're not as important as people think. And I'm always reminded, I was very much reminded that when I was running BP, you know, I started life as one of the seven sisters. And ended life as simply an industrial company that was making money in order to fund pension funds. And that's what we really did every day, we funded people's pensions. So now, they have to decide what to do with this ex growth idea. BP’s decided to diversify, as indeed has Shell and Total and Chevron's beginning, and they're beginning to say, well, maybe energy is our seam and we can go from oil and gas to electricity, and other related activities. This is actually quite a big bridge across. But it's possible. But everyone says, let's wait and see. Let's wait and see, does it actually work? Can it produce comparable returns to oil and gas? Although that's in itself a very unusual thing to think about, the oil and gas returns are somewhat volatile. So, can it actually do that? And can they, as the companies, get the skills and credibility to do this on a scale which is significant? And are we prepared to let them diversify? Because last time this happened, I was still in the oil industry at the beginning of my career in the oil industry, is when the Club of Rome said, oil would run out by the year 2000. So, it was ex growth. Last time it was ex growth. The oil and gas companies decided to diversify. But they really did diversify. Montgomery Ward and all sorts of things. I imagine, BP became the biggest charcuterie producer in Europe, for example, amongst other things. So, all of that happened. In fact, we went BP went into minerals sold eventually to Rio Tinto, which really effectively made we Rio Tinto the company that it is today. So, you know, I don't know whether history will repeat itself, probably won't. But one has to be careful when one decides to diversify. Make sure the reasons are right. And you can afford to do it because these new businesses take a lot of money to keep going.

 

ML: They do and I suppose that's one of the most interesting, as a spectator sport, it'll be fascinating to see whether the right strategy turns out to be managed the core business for decline in cash, or to try to diversify, as you say, the European oil and gas companies are attempting to do.

 

JB: It's very difficult. I remember the late Sir Patrick Sheehy, was a director of BP, he was also the chairman of British American Tobacco. He very early recognized that the tobacco business was ex growth, he thought it was going to be pushed out of business and diversified into insurance that didn’t work and the investors said, actually, we will have insurance companies, and you can be stuck with tobacco and just give us the dividends. It's still around paying lots and lots of dividends. But a very different business compared with the one that he ran all those many years ago.

 

ML: John, we've got about five minutes left. And I want to switch gears slightly and talk about the operating conditions for executives, because you had this brilliant career with and then a very public end to that career. And now you've you wouldn't be operating in a very different environment today, throughout that entire period, because of social media. Does that, would that have changed anything in how you either ran the business? Or, how you dealt with then with your resignation from BP?

 

JB: So I think, you know, one thing, I was surrounded by people who, who kept reminding me correctly, absolutely correctly, that there were plenty of stakeholders in the business, it wasn't just the shareholders. And I think that was especially the case in oil and gas at the time I was operating. You know, politics mattered. Political relationships mattered, the media mattered, because, you know, people outside the UK, read things. So, I was very sensitive to stakeholders. And I think the same would apply today, but at a heightened level. I think gone are the days although I do hear these conversations with CEOs gone are the days where you can just say, well, you know, I'm just in the business to make money. This is not true. You're in the business, to sustain making money and to serve the many people that you touch, including your investors. I wrote a book about it called Connect, because I was so angry about it being simply an idea you tacked on to the end of it. I had Howard Davis as one of my interviewees. He said, oh, yes, well, this is the sort of stuff that boards used to deal with at 4.30 on a Friday afternoon, you know, and so it is actually, to the center of strategy, how I would have dealt with my resignation, probably the same way. It was all over the press, it was leaking. And, you know, and I just decided that I just didn't want to be a campaign object. And I made some errors of judgement. And it was correct to resign at the time, in my view, and I still would have done the same thing today.

 

ML: So in business, what you're saying is it's not as though us, you or other business leaders at the time, we're operating kind of without engagement with stakeholders, this kind of vision of old school business, people just in smoke filled rooms, doing deals, not caring about other that was not the case anyway.

 

JB: So what are people the tendency was to try and get into smoke filled rooms again, and again, you know, lots of these meetings, closed meetings with CEOs only. I think they're wrong. I mean, we have to be much more transparent, much more.

 

ML: And in business, it's now clear that there's been a, that sort of old school way of doing things just simply now does not work. That's absolutely clear. But there are other sectors where, where people still, LBGT cannot come out, cannot be public. So I'm thinking of sports, you know, there's the Euro 2020 championships. I don't think there's one out gay professional footballer.

 

JB: Strangely, the correlation is they only become gay when they retire. You know, it, that's almost true. So, you know, look, I think we've come a long way in business. Not the whole way. I think people understand the meaning of equality and inclusion leading to diversity. I think there's been a lot of pressure. And I think people have figured out that actually, if you include everybody, your chances are, you get better performance because you get team bonding. To include you have to include everybody, and you're always tested on your weakest link. So, if people see you exclude in one thing, they think you're not involved in teams. Now that happens for a lot of the world in business. It doesn't happen where people are worried about the customers, the fans, they worry that anything which isn't down the line, exactly the way it's always used to be gets in the way. Same is true in Hollywood. Same is true in football, all sorts of sport, not all sport, in swimming, diving, and there are some individual contributor sports where it's okay, it's where a team is involved. They don't want to open that up, I hope they do. And certainly, the fans need to be pulled out of this idea that they can scream and say to people they're gay and they are “fags”. And because that's a way of expressing their anger or expressing their support for the other side. So, this is wrong, and it must be stopped.

 

ML: But there's another arena where all this is very difficult. And that is in the development arena. Obviously, you've written in your book, about the Glass Closet, the book that you wrote about all of this, you wrote about operating in the developing world, there's a lot of countries where it's actually illegal to be gay. And you talk about the tension of moving people around from a business perspective, expats who are stationed in those countries. But you know, I do a lot of work with the UN, I'm very struck by the marvelous SDGs, you know, 17 SDGs, 169 targets, not one mention of LBGT. And so quite clearly, that's an arena that is, I don't know, is stuck in the past the right word? Or it's not yet, you know, a place where these this, there's not even the conversation about these issues.

 

JB: And the same is true with many churches, many faiths as well, because the cultural mores of different parts of the world, just basically have excluded any idea of anything other than, you know, a man and a woman together making babies. And that's it. So, I think you've got to be careful with, if I may just in business, your prime objective with people is that you must keep them safe. So, while you can do all this in the UK, or in most of the US, to send someone to Uganda and encourage them to come out and be openly gay, would be I think foolish, it could potentially risk that person, put them at risk for bodily harm, all sorts of things like that. So, you have to be careful about how you do this and wise about the context in which we're operating one. Regrettably, one rule does not cover everybody. Hopefully, it will one day, but right now it doesn't.

 

ML: But I guess my question is why, or what would it take for the UN to lead on this rather than effectively to ignore the issue?

 

JB: They need to gather consensus, although I would think with the major countries, they could get that they really could get that. There remain, I think, only 35 or 50 countries where it is illegal to be gay, and have sexual relationships with the same sex, mostly men only. And so that leaves quite a lot of other countries that could say, we'll do something about it. And indeed, they're beginning to. So I think it requires a push from, you know, from probably from the members of the Security Council, if they could just do that. So that they could say this is okay, it is not criminal. And in the words of Pope Francis, who am I to comment, who am I to comment, you know.

 

ML: So, we are unfortunately running over on time. I'd like to thank you for appearing on Cleaning Up spending this time with me also talking just over such a wide range of topics. And particularly the last one, you and I have not spoken about, but I have been following very carefully you're campaigning on the issue. And it's an issue that I also try to do my best to support those in my teams. Diversity of all sorts has been a big part of New Energy Finance. I don't know if you know, that at one point, I think three of my four top executives were gay. And when you mentored me, and when you became our biggest champion, I think you were then, you may not have known that, but I thank you for your time on the show. And I thank you for your support throughout the last 20 years that I've been doing this.

 

JB: Well, it's always been, it has been a pleasure. I hope it continues to be a pleasure. And it's great to see you still involved in something which is so important to us. You're one of your core foundations. You were early in new energy, you're still there. We need all the help in the world we can get and you're just great at it.

 

ML: Thank you very much.

 

JB: Thank you.

 

ML: So that was Lord Browne, former CEO of BP, and now senior advisor to General Atlantic on net zero and climate change.