From geopolitical tensions to the coronavirus pandemic to trade disputes, modern life can often feel confusing, unsafe, and disjointed.
One area where there seems to be a new sense of unity is the environment. Just last week, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order resuming the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, reversing the Trump administration's decision to withdraw from the agreement.
The Paris Agreement marks a milestone at the COP21 summit in December 2015 and aims to keep global warming "well below" 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels and "make efforts" to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
In a statement on Biden's decision, the European Commission stressed the need for future cooperation and consensus. "The climate crisis is the crucial challenge of our time," said the EU executive, "and it can only be tackled by uniting all of our forces."
The role of finance
Politicians aren't the only ones who focus on the environment. A panel discussion moderated by CNBC's Steve Sedgwick discussed at length the role of the financial sector in efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.
"Compared to 2015, there is exactly this undeniable and accelerating dynamic in the financial sector," said Rhian-Mari Thomas, Managing Director of the Green Finance Institute.
"We're seeing huge inflows into … environmental, social and governance funds," she said, adding that the magnitude of change is widespread.
"Aside from the exciting innovation we're seeing and the pledges and commitments of individual financial firms and providers, we're really seeing change on a systemic level," she said.
According to the Investment Association (IA), the trade association for UK investment managers, £ 7.8 billion (US $ 10.72 billion) was invested in "responsible mutual funds" between January and October 2020.
This, according to the Impact Assessment, represented 47.5% of total net money poured into funds and was four times higher than in the same period in 2019.
In October 2020 alone, more than £ 1 billion was invested in these funds, a figure the Impact Assessment dubbed the "highest monthly total on record". Still, work remains to be done: the IA said the "total share of responsible mutual funds in managed industrial funds" was only 3.0% at the end of October.
Thomas reaffirmed her position on systemic change and referred to the network of central banks and supervisory authorities for greening the financial system (NGFS). The NGFS, launched in 2017, consists of central banks and supervisory authorities.
It consists of 83 members and 13 observers. The latter include institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the OECD, while members range from the Bank of England and the European Central Bank to the US Federal Reserve.
The presence of such great thugs is not lost on Thomas. "All systemically important banks in the world and many other financial institutions are now overseen by members of the NGFS who are committed to ensuring that the financial services system is in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement," she said.
The business challenge
While the bigger picture can change thanks to global initiatives and collaborations, how individual companies approach issues related to sustainability and the environment is also important.
Another member of the CNBC board, Markus Steilemann, CEO of Covestro, wanted to highlight the challenge facing his company, a major player in polymers.
"We have to master two transitions," he said. "Number one is that our massive energy intake needs to become carbon neutral and carbon emissions neutral," he added.
"And secondly, we have to master the transition to raw materials, that is, completely away from raw materials that come from coal, oil and gas towards renewable sources."
Steilemann also emphasized the importance of operating a circular economy rather than a linear one, an idea that has become increasingly important in recent years.
"The materials that we bring out there do not have to end up in landfills – nor may they end up in the oceans … they have to be recycled," said Steilemann.
"Second, we have to ensure that the raw material we use does not come from a linear business model and is not extracted from the ground."