E3G at 20: a continuing commitment to making the necessary possible


Nick Mabey, Co-CEO and Co-Founder, looks back on E3G’s 20-year journey and future direction in delivering its mission of a safe climate for all.

In 2024, climate action stands at a pivotal juncture.

The climate crisis is no longer on the backburner of global priorities but at the forefront of international discourse. As E3G evolves and scales to help enable the global climate transition, we are challenged to maintain the pioneering spirit that defined our early days. The task ahead is daunting: to navigate the intricacies of global politics where cooperation is often overshadowed by conflict, and to foster a world where sustainable development is not just an ideal but a practical reality.

We find ourselves contending with a paradox; while technological progress has brought us closer to the ability to reach net zero emissions, we have not yet decided to deploy these innovations fast enough to stay within safe climate limits. This reality propels E3G’s day-to-day work, demanding us to develop innovative solutions that match the scale and urgency of environmental challenges.

Our immediate priorities are clear. To build the climate politics and diplomacy needed to shape an ambitious new round of climate targets in 2025, to massively accelerate the energy transition to a clean economy, and to get financing where it matters for climate action through the transformation of the global financial architecture.

At this critical point for global climate action, we are also reflecting on what we have learnt from E3G’s journey as we reach our 20th anniversary.

Watch the short video below with clips from the chat with Nick Mabey that informed the article and the key reflections below.

The challenges we face today are similar to those that drove the creation of E3G twenty years ago, but they are now concrete and immediate rather than potential issues in the future. E3G was central to starting a global conversation on climate security risks that are now hitting across the world. E3G pioneered the professionalisation of climate diplomacy inside foreign ministries which is now the basis for global cooperation. E3G helped create the world’s first national green Investment bank and is now part of a broad movement to align the global finance system with climate action.  E3G foresaw the societal and geopolitical tensions that would be created by the success of climate policies, forces which are shaping elections and economies across the world in 2024.

The constant in E3G’s journey has been change, coupled with a willingness to continually challenge our own assumptions and ways of working to ensure they remain fit for purpose.

This spirit of challenge and constant reflection is rooted in E3G’s creation.

E3G was born of intense discussions, some might say arguments, among the three founders, all of whom brought diverse perspectives and experience from careers in government, industry and NGOs. Despite our differences, we had a common mission, and a shared frustration, over the gap that existed between the rhetoric of politicians and the reality of climate change action.

E3G was the result of debates on how to transform our frustrations into action. We recognised if we were to take our concerns seriously a radical approach was needed. We needed to leave the comfortable security of our existing roles if we were to build the new type of organisation we thought was necessary to accelerate change.

Our founding principle was simple yet ambitious: to drive change at an ecological pace. This was not about adjusting at a rate comfortable to humans or their institutions; it was about aligning our efforts with the relentless, unforgiving dynamics of planetary systems. E3G aimed to bridge the massive gap between what was necessary and what was politically and institutionally feasible at the time.

In short, making the necessary possible.

It was also motivated by our understanding that the fragile web of human rights, law, democracy, and international cooperation which makes a decent life possible in a world of 8 billion people would not survive uncontrolled climate change.

This realisation meant environmental action could not remain an “outsider” issue.

To win environmental realities needed to be fully embedded into mainstream policy and decision-making. E3G’s full name, Third Generation Environmentalism, embodies our commitment to this new way of working and organising. A movement building on the successes of the first generation of conservationists and the second generation of environmental protest to engage networks of mainstream actors who share our mission of delivering environmental sustainability.

E3G does this by working in three ways: building a strategic understanding of the critical path of climate action, converting this understanding into tangible, concrete changes and decisions, and building robust coalitions and sustainable politics to help deliver these outcomes.

As E3G grew, so did our strategies for change and areas of influence.

From our early focus on policy, advocacy and shaping public debates on climate action in the EU, we moved on to build new architectures for collaboration in areas like climate diplomacy and global coal phase-out, and then started to drive deep international economic system change in energy, infrastructure, resilience and financial regulation.

In the years to come, E3G will continue to evolve, driven by the necessity to adapt to an ever-changing environmental, economic and geopolitical landscape.

We are building our capacity to better understand and shape climate politics, moving our focus to shape “whole of government” decisions at the highest levels, and extending our reach internationally through stronger networks of partners and associates.  Our mission has also shifted beyond the delivery of individual policy outcomes, to shaping the “operating system” of how decisions are made so they properly reflect environmental realities and their interdependence with human systems. This involves a delicate balance of acting with the urgency of a crisis while also driving changes which will take decades, not just years, to deliver.

From a personal standpoint, the journey of E3G has been both a profound honour and a formidable – if fascinating – challenge. It is a testament to the power of building a collaborative vision when combined with passionate commitment from everyone involved to delivering real outcomes in the world.

Nick Mabey in 1997 on a platform with WWF at COP3 in Kyoto

The path ahead is uncertain, complex and turbulent but our resolve to engage with the reality of what needs to change remains.

As it was from the start, E3G’s goal is not just to stop environmental degradation but to build—an economy, a society, a future—that respects and preserves an environment in which everybody can thrive.

This is the greatest legacy any organisation could aspire to leave behind.


E3G was founded by John Ashton, Tom Burke and Nick Mabey when they were all working in the UK Government and incorporated on 21 June 2004. Nick Mabey is joint CEO of e3G with Shane Tomlinson.


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