JC features in Hult Alumni Magazine 2020: read the full publication online now

Degrees of Change

JC Seghers photographed in London, UK

JC Seghers
Head of Climate Transparency & Pathways
Masters in International Relations, Class of 2010
London, UK

The Under2 Coalition is striving to keep global temperature rises well under 2ºC of warming. It’s one of the most ambitious live projects in climate change, and the day-to-day concern of environmental consultant JC Seghers, who works with governments around the world to better measure, track, and reduce their emissions. Can humankind get the job done by 2050? He says (a cautious) yes.

HULT: Why environmental policy, JC?

JC SEGHERS: I was initially attracted to working in European policy – I was fascinated by the European Union. At the time of my first traineeship at the EU delegation in Vienna, the economic and environmental departments were one, so my role took on an environmental stamp. I didn’t anticipate how relevant it was going to be. I always wanted to have a career with a purpose, and at the time that was through getting involved in the European institutions. Now, it’s through sustainability and climate change.

H: You’re currently working on the Under2 Coalition—tell us about that.

JCS: The Under2 Coalition is the largest network of states and regions committing to a very ambitious 2050 climate target. External researchers have called it the initiative with the largest emission reduction potential in the world.

H: That’s a serious target. Is it feasible?

JCS: It’s definitely feasible—study after study has proven it. A lot of the solutions are there, and yes, some sectors are more difficult than others. But we’re seeing a changing momentum, from more engaged consumers to a passionate Gen Z on the streets showing it cares . What will define whether we’re going to hit those targets is pace. It’s all about pace. Are we going fast enough? That’s where the focus should be.

H: How influential is Gen Z right now?

JCS: They are definitely part of what drives companies to change. Let’s not forget, a lot of change is about cost-reduction: if you use less energy, your bottom line is going to benefit. But we have to look at holistic approaches. We have a climate crisis, an emissions crisis, but we also have a biodiversity and resource crisis. Although the recent climate protests have been global, it’s not the same everywhere. In a lot of countries, this issue is not front of mind. There are a lot of countries without energy access or sanitation. That’s where you’ve got to look at solutions that work for these pressing issues that are, at the same time, sustainable.

H: So how does the layperson do their bit? Does it really matter if we use a paper straw over a plastic one?

JCS: I go back and forth on this all the time. Can individual actions have big impact? Of course. But again, we get back to pace. This is where we need what I call forced behavior change, either through legislation or through clever product development. If you ban single-use plastics by law, for example, people don’t have a choice, and behavior changes overnight.

“Sustainability for business has become more than a PR practice, it’s about engineering. Businesses and governments have to work hand in hand to offer the ultimate solution—ensuring we stop living beyond our means.”

H: In the face of two crises and much adversity, do you believe we can limit global warming in our lifetime?

JCS: I’m a realistic optimist. The challenge is huge, and we see the impact on a daily basis. We are living beyond our means as a population—we have been for a while, and our population is growing. But I’m optimistic for various reasons. One is consumer sentiment and public engagement. Two, there is a whole lot of bottom-up climate action, and money flows are slowly shifting. There are a lot of new technologies whose costs are coming down massively. Sustainability for businesses has become more than a PR practice, it’s about engineering. There are a lot of good signs. And humankind is amazing! We’ve done so much already—reduced extreme poverty, increased our life expectancy, tackled major issues. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of us as a kind, and that gives me a lot of hope.

Pay it forward

Hult pairs aspiring mentors with individual students and project groups. JC has been mentoring Hult Prize team Ufolo, whose members share his same passion for the planet. Read all about them here.