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6 minute read

The era of interconnected challenges: holistic approach for addressing inequality, the climate crisis and biodiversity loss

As the world’s leading producer of sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel and renewable feedstock solutions for various polymers and chemicals industry uses, Neste’s business is built upon sustainability. Our company purpose is to create a healthier planet for our children. This requires both environmental and social transformation, which is also necessary for achieving the WBCSD vision of a world in which more than 9 billion people are able to live well, within planetary boundaries, by mid-century.

Mercedes Alonso, Executive Vice President, Renewable Polymers and Chemicals, Neste

Mercedes Alonso


A fundamental element in achieving this transformation is the need to tackle inequality. The moral case for action is clear with mounting inequality undermining the whole spectrum of human rights and eroding basic human dignity. However, there is also a strong business case for action. The growing global wealth gap is fueling civil and political unrest around the world and impacting the business operating environment by creating volatility and uncertainty, limiting our ability to innovate and grow.  

Rising inequality also weakens our ability to tackle the climate crisis. We are witnessing firsthand how climate change is compounding global inequality, with extreme weather threatening the world’s poorest countries and communities. Those who are already the most vulnerable are the worst hit, with marginalized and disadvantaged groups suffering disproportionate losses to their assets, health and livelihoods. In simple terms, climate change affects us all, but it does not affect us equally. Moreover, climate change not only makes inequality worse, but inequality also exacerbates climate change, creating a vicious cycle that has dire consequences for societies, business and the environment.

The implications of this are twofold: growing inequality is a systemic issue that creates significant risks for business, but business also has a powerful role to play in tackling inequality. Neste has joined the WBCSD Business Commission to Tackle Inequality and started taking steps to better understand our business impacts and the actions needed to create positive change for the people in our operations, value chains and communities, with three key considerations to shape the way forward:

1. Inequality, climate change and biodiversity loss are interconnected and need to be addressed as such 

Climate and biodiversity are inextricably connected with human futures. The combined effects of unprecedented climate change and biodiversity loss perpetuate inequality, threatening the lives, livelihoods, and well-being of people worldwide. It is estimated that current negative trends in climate and biodiversity will undermine progress toward 80% of the assessed targets for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land. None of these issues can be successfully resolved unless they are tackled together, as also acknowledged in the recent biodiversity agreement reached at the COP15 meeting in Montreal.

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It is against this backdrop that Neste designed its sustainability vision, stretching across four areas: climate, biodiversity, human rights, and supply chain & raw materials. Launched in 2021, this vision identifies growing inequality, climate change and biodiversity loss as interconnected issues. It includes ambitious targets for human rights, with an overarching ambition to create a more equitable and inclusive value chain by 2030, in which everyone works with dignity. The four priority areas for action under this 2030 human rights ambition are living wages, children’s rights, responsible recruitment and inequality.

2. Transformation is necessary, but we need to ensure that our transition to a carbon-neutral world leaves no one behind 

The decarbonization of our global economy will only succeed if climate justice includes solutions for workers and communities that are underpinned by respect for human rights. This requires ensuring that the global transition to a low-carbon economy is a just transition as envisaged by the Paris Agreement, one which engages workers, delivers green and decent jobs, and creates resilient communities where everyone can thrive.

At Neste, future readiness means delivering on our climate commitments to lead the transformation towards carbon-neutral production by 2035 and a carbon-neutral value chain by 2040. Our transformation journey started over a decade ago when we pivoted from being a regional oil refiner into a global leader in renewable and circular solutions. We are now moving into the next phase of this transformation, having launched a strategic study on transitioning our Porvoo refinery in Finland into a renewable and circular site and ending crude oil refining in the mid-2030s. 

We recognize the importance of not leaving anyone behind in achieving this transformation. This requires anticipating the impacts of decarbonization on our workers and communities, preparing our employees for new roles needed in the transformation through individual competence development, and developing organizational leadership practices that support change management. We promote a people-first approach in our just transition planning, underpinned by our commitments to respect human rights, promote decent work, and address inequalities across the value chain. 

3. Collaboration is key 

Growing inequality, climate change, and biodiversity loss are among the most significant challenges we face today as a global community. To reduce inequality, we must understand its causes and consequences, which are complex and deeply rooted in social, economic, political and environmental systems and resources. Governments have a central role to play in the way they allocate political power, provide public services, and regulate markets. The private sector plays a critical role in the opportunities that companies generate for innovation, value creation and distribution. None of us can do this alone, but we can collectively enhance our muscle, reach, and ability to succeed through partnerships and collaboration. 

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We don’t have all the answers yet, and a range of solutions are needed. This means we need to be bold and challenge ourselves to work with new partners who are not afraid to try different approaches and push the boundaries for what is possible. For these reasons, Neste has become an active member of the WBCSD Business Commission to Tackle Inequality (BCTI), which provides a common agenda for companies to take action, rooted in respect for human rights and a commitment to equity and social justice. In 2023, we will continue working with our BCTI partners in cross-sectoral and multi-stakeholder collaboration, to mobilize the private sector and drive greater levels of business attention to address inequality as part of sustainable growth. By working together, we can reduce inequality and create a more sustainable future in which all human beings can live with dignity, reach their full potential and thrive in a healthy environment. 

Neste is a member of the WBCSD Business Commission to Tackle Inequality (BCTI), a multi-stakeholder coalition of organizations who put addressing inequality at the heart of the business agenda for sustainable growth. We have actively contributed to developing the newly published BCTI flagship report Tackling inequality: An agenda for business action, which provides a clear and compelling case for business action to tackle inequality, as well as a comprehensive action agenda that business leaders can leverage to help build a world of opportunity for all.

Credits: Mercedes Alonso, Executive Vice President, Renewable Polymers and Chemicals, Neste