In celebration of CDP’s 20th anniversary, we spoke with Ateli Iyalla, Managing Director of CDP North America, for reflections and insights on the past, present and future of environmental disclosure and action. Ateli joined CDP in 2012 and in 2020, he stepped into the role of Managing Director where he leads the drive to increase environmental transparency and action among companies, investors and local governments.
In one word, what does CDP mean to you?
Progress. It is important to reflect on what CDP has achieved to this point, especially in mainstreaming climate and environmental disclosure. But I think more importantly, we must take the lessons of the last 20 years into the next 20, to continue to ratchet up ambition and action, and to hold each other accountable.
What do you think is the single most important thing that people should know about CDP?
CDP’s disclosure platform is deservedly the first thing you know about us, but we offer so much more to the environmental space by bringing together different stakeholders – companies, investors, local governments and policymakers (many of whom may not normally collaborate) – to speak the same language around a shared set of goals.
Finish this sentence: I work at CDP because…
I want to make a difference in people’s lives. The pace of change and innovation – especially post-industrialization – has been rapid. We have made so much progress in addressing some of the environmental challenges that we face today, but there is still a long way to go and we can’t leave behind groups that have historically been ignored or marginalized.
Why do you believe in CDP?
I believe in CDP because our approach of leveraging the influential forces of the market for good has been proven to work. We recognize that if we can align those market forces together, we can scale change at an unprecedented pace.
What is your most memorable moment at CDP?
The Paris Agreement was a very memorable moment for CDP; all the work we’d been doing for years came to the forefront at COP21. It was an opportunity for the world’s leaders to lay down the gauntlet and see climate change as something we all recognize and need to collectively address. And I expect the upcoming COP26 to be another momentous moment as well.
Summarize CDP’s 20 years of impact?
CDP as an organization started with a simple goal: collect information on how large companies were managing climate change. As we grew, we improved the quantity and quality of questions asked to bring more relevant data to the marketplace. Water security and deforestation were brought into the fold as they are deeply related to climate change, and we then expanded into the procurement space as a means of driving transparency and action in supply chains.
The early days were about expanding disclosure. After COP21, we saw a shift in the way that CDP was able to support the marketplace. Now we had a collective north star to work toward. After that, we were able to push for the ambition needed for us to be able to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Now we continue to ratchet up that ambition. CDP has created an impact loop: companies and cities measure environmental impact, then set even higher ambitions.
What do you think is CDP’s greatest accomplishment over 20 years?
Our growth from 245 companies to over 10,000 disclosing companies, cities, states and regions.
What has been the biggest challenge to CDP’s mission? What will the next big challenge be?
A big challenge that CDP has faced over the last 20 years is making the case that addressing environmental issues is good business sense and is core to long-lasting success. Now that concept has become mainstream.
The rate of change and innovation that we need is a challenge for the next 20 years. Rapid GHG reduction requires advanced and innovative methods. Those with long-term targets often have plans in place for the next several years, but beyond that it can get hazy. We need to rapidly scale up investment in innovation – not only for things such as battery technology and carbon capture and storage, but also creating more opportunities for companies and other stakeholders to work together and collectively address the impacts in their value chains.
What do you think is the importance of CDP’s work as we start to recover from COVID-19?
CDP provides an accountability mechanism to make sure that recovery happens with sustainability and equity at the forefront. We are in a prime position to understand and advise on the actions taken. We can build back better in a just and equitable way that respects planetary boundaries but also achieves the economic and social outcomes we want to see.
What are your hopes for the next 20 years?
Being dynamic is key – we are the conscience of the environmental movement. CDP must continue to evolve not just the information we collect, but also continue to help financial decision makers understand the progress and the gaps as the world evolves and the landscape shifts. CDP should point the rest in that direction.