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Why fostering a dialogue between policymakers and stakeholders is critical to achieve sustainability goals

An interview with Cyrille Mai Thanh, Founder of the Brussels Sustainability Club


Author: Natalia Vasnier


sustainability

Brussels, the heart of European politics and policymaking. As you step into this city, you realise that everything revolves around the European Union, and so many different languages intertwine. Within such a dynamic environment, having spaces of dialogue between policymakers and professionals is essential.


This is where the Brussels Sustainability Club comes in, founded by Cyrille Mai Thanh who’s also Associate Partner in the sustainability practice in the Brussels office of Denton Global Advisors (DGA).


“I founded the Brussels Sustainability Club in 2021, during the COVID pandemic. We were all stuck at home, there was no possibility to attend events or network with peers. I was trying to find a solution to stay connected, and remain up to date on sustainability issues.”


Cyrille Mai Thanh has built a strong reputation and network within the sustainability space in Brussels since the start of his career eight years ago. Starting at the British Chamber of Commerce, then turned to be an in-house lobbyist for Veolia before entering consultancy in his role at DGA. 


The inception of the Brussels Sustainability Club


The exchange of knowledge and ideas is a crucial way for society to advance within an ever-changing world. Cyrille says that “as a public affair professional, it is important to be well informed. I had this idea of creating a platform that would bring together people working in the field of sustainability policy in Brussels.”


He adds, “I also started this project because there was a strong political momentum to advance the sustainability agenda. We've seen an increasing number of policy initiatives, whether at national, European, or international level, to progress the climate and sustainability agenda. The Green Deal is a great example.”


He realised the need to engage on topics of sustainability amongst policymakers and public affairs professionals.


An inclusive network gathering a community of lobbyists


The Brussels Sustainability Club is a network of over 200 public affairs professionals working in the city. These lobbyists represent leading organisations, including multinational companies as well as trade associations from across sectors. There are also representatives of environmental NGOs within the network.

"The idea is to have an inclusive forum that gets together through regular meetings and discuss key sustainability topics. Members get the opportunity to discuss and share ideas or concerns with a lead policymaker on a given topic.”

An example was a roundtable that took place earlier this year with Jacob Werksman, the lead climate negotiator in the European Commission, who attended COP28 in Dubai along with the European Commissioner for Climate Action. He came to debrief members on the negotiations and the outcome of the conference.


“As part of our mission, we cover a broad range of sustainability issues, including climate, energy, circular economy, chemicals, transport, we also have had a session on sustainable finance”, Cyrille adds.


A forum of exchange between regulators and experts


Many platforms where these two communities engage together already exist, however Cyrille believes “there is a need for more engagement, especially in Brussels, between EU institutions, businesses, and civil society.”


He explains it by saying, “Politicians make public policies and regulate the market; businesses are the ones that bring new solutions to the market. It is critical that these stakeholders remain in contact. Policymakers may not be experts on the topics that they regulate, and this is why they need to stay in touch with experts from industry and NGOs who actually have the knowledge and practical experience on these issues.”


“The Brussels Sustainability Club is a sort of bridge between the world of politics and the world of business. Our platform helps these two very different worlds interact with one another.”


Over the past year, the size of the membership has more than doubled, showing the increasing interest from professionals working in all types of organisations and from all levels of seniority to discuss sustainability issues within a dedicated forum.


Regulation and global risks in the future


A study by the World Economic Forum revealed that over the next decade environmental risks will represent the top four global risks in 2034. Cyrille corroborates this saying that “the main global risk is clearly our failure to mitigate climate change which will have increasingly visible impacts.”


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Over the past few years, natural disasters have occurred at a more frequent rate than ever before with floods, hurricanes, wildfires and droughts affecting many regions worldwide. In 2022, the Emergency Event Database recorded that 185 million individuals were affected by the 387 natural disasters that impacted the world. 


When asked how he sees the dynamics between industry and the regulatory framework evolving over the next few years, he believes that when it comes to Europe, there will be a continued ambition to accelerate the climate transition but more flexibility will be given on how to reach the end goal. 


“The industry is currently under a lot of pressure to be held accountable for its environmental impact and become more sustainable. And it’s fair because we want to leave future generations a liveable planet,” he says. “But we’re also seeing a growing political wind in Europe calling to preserve industrial competitiveness. And this is also fair because everyone wants to keep their jobs. So, it’s difficult to predict where these dynamics will bring us, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the trade-offs that policymakers will make.” 


The role of the private sector and governments in advancing the climate agenda


Cyrille believes industry plays a critical role in addressing climate change and speeding up the decarbonisation. The private sector drives innovation and makes investment in clean tech. Companies have the resources and incentives to develop and adopt greener solutions. They are also realising the importance of sustainability for the survival of their business.”


He thinks that “market forces can also be powerful drivers of change”, as consumers become more environmentally conscious, there’s a growing demand for sustainable products and services. This creates opportunities for businesses to meet these demands and drive positive environmental impacts.


Cyrille warns that the private sector alone will not be sufficient to solve the climate crisis, effective government policies and strong international cooperation are also essential.

“Ultimately, a close collaboration between policymakers, businesses, and civil society is necessary to drive meaningful progress on the climate agenda.”

Following the announcement of the European Green Deal five years ago, Europe has taken a clear stance that it wants to become the gold standard on sustainability. Indeed, Cyrille adds, “Europe is very serious about climate change, the EU has set very ambitious targets and also adopted an impressive number of regulations to go in this direction.”


Perspectives on the future


Upon being asked whether he is an optimist or a pessimist about the future, he replies, “When it comes to climate change, there is both reason for concern and reason for hope. On one hand, the impact of climate change is already being felt worldwide. But on the other hand, there is also a growing awareness and action on climate change.” Overall, the outlook on climate change is complex and depends on various factors, including political will, technological innovation, public awareness, and international cooperation.


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Cyrille Mai Thanh interviewed by Natalia Vasnier for The Conference Corner. Featured images provided by Cyrille Mai Thanh and Burning woods during night time photo – Free Pine Image on Unsplash.

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