Business and COP15

Global business leaders plan for a sustainable earth economyAhead of Copenhagen’s COP15, some business leaders stood out by standing up for efforts to combat climate change. As reported by the Copenhagen Climate Council, global business leaders assembled in Copenhagen at the World Business Summit on Climate Change. They issued The Copenhagen Call, a concise statement from business leaders about the elements required to forge an effective new global climate treaty.

Global business leaders called for ambitious, global action on climate change with bold targets for emissions reductions by 2020 and 2050. Their goal is to limit the average global temperature rise to a maximum of 2°C, as compared to pre-industrial levels. This will require an emissions abatement of around 17Gt by 2020.

This level of emissions reduction will have a profound effect on business, however, the “Call” states that “business leaders stand ready to make those changes and support ambitious political decisions that support economic recovery and safeguard the planet.”

The Call has urged the adoption of six steps for a sustainable economic future:

  1. A science-based greenhouse gas stabilization path with emissions reduction targets.
  2. Effective measurement, reporting and verification of emissions performance by business.
  3. Incentives for a dramatic increase in financing low emissions technologies.
  4. Deployment of existing low-emissions technologies and the development of new ones.
  5. Funds to make communities more resilient and able to adapt to the effects of climate change.
  6. Means to finance forest protection.

“The ambition of the Copenhagen Call shows that business need not be a conservative voice on climate change,” says Tim Flannery, Chair of the Copenhagen Climate Council. The Call sees the complimentary nature of economic recovery and action on climate change. The new infrastructure needed to reduce emissions will benefit the economy while creating jobs and investment.

Erik Rasmussen, Founder of the Copenhagen Climate Council, explains: “Reducing the emissions that until now have been so linked to our economic growth and betterment will be an enormous, unprecedented global challenge but will also provide significant opportunities for sustainable growth, green jobs, development and innovation.”

From the perspective of competitive positioning, the “first mover” advantage will benefit businesses and countries that are prepared to lead.

Earlier this month, Lord Browne, the former chief executive of BP, now the managing director and managing partner (Europe) of Riverstone Holdings LLC, wrote an article for the Sunday Telegraph reviewing business’ role in climate change mitigation strategies. .

Browne starts with the premise that current levels of emissions are not sustainable and management requires immediate government action, “governments need to seize the moment this summit offers…We cannot afford another Kyoto conference where fine words are exchanged but behavior continues as normal.”  Browne said.

Browne has suggested a core set of minimum requirements to tackle climate change. He suggests that talks should be framed as a series of meetings rather than a single conference. He also suggests that developed nations must lead by assuming responsibility for their emissions and increasing technology transfer to developing nations.

He further warns against the dangers of locking in long term policies that do not afford the degree of flexibility required to manage uncertainties like technological breakthroughs.

Browne believes we need national targets in line with the Kyoto principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” and global offset mechanisms that would free governments to trade emission credits. According to Brown, offsetting emissions through funding projects in other countries will help to meet global targets in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

Browne also believes that we need to build global capacity, particularly in the developing world where we find most of the low-cost opportunities to reduce emissions. “Delivery involves a lot more than articulating a vision and setting targets. It requires the capacity to identify opportunities and the capability to implement plans.” According to Browne, in the developing world, as much as two thirds of the global potential to reduce emissions could be achieved with half the capital expenditure.

Browne recognizes that improving governance in developing countries is an important part of realizing this potential. “There is little point in world leaders setting targets if some countries lack the infrastructure and the expertise to properly monitor emissions. Copenhagen should identify measures and allocate funds to build capacity, which, as a result of its unique position and experience, should be administered by the World Bank.” Browne said.

Finally, Browne advocates that both private sources and governments invest in long-term research focusing on energy and in particular, alternative energy sources that can be made cost competitive with fossil fuels.

Copenhagen can provide the architecture for future international cooperation, but strong political leadership is required if a post Kyoto treaty is to succeed. At COP15, global political leaderships are tasked to demonstrate their commitment to the integrity of our environment. Failure at Copenhagen will have political consequences.

While some in the business community support the transition to a low carbon economy, others appear to be willfully impeding progress. However, climate change is the concern of our times and governments will be judged by the electorate, just as businesses will be judged by consumers.


Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, sustainable investor and writer. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources for information and tools on sustainability. He is also the author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, green investing, politics and economics.

Richard Matthews
Richard Matthews
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, sustainable investor, and writer. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. He is also the author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, green investing, enviro-politics, and eco-economics.

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