C4C at COP18: The Role of Business in the Global Climate Fight

viewimageaspxThe signatories of Caring for Climate, the UN climate action platform for business, met in Doha. Now the real work begins

Since 1997, every four years following the United States presidential election, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) has published the Global Trends Report, a document that provides policymakers with information to aid in "long term planning on key issues of worldwide importance."

One of the "overarching megatrends" that will define the world in the year 2030, the latest Global Trends Report says, is "the growing nexus among food, water, and energy—in combination with climate change."

The report states:

"Demand for food, water, and energy will grow by approximately 35, 40, and 50 percent respectively owing to an increase in the global population and the consumption patterns of an expanding middle class. Climate change will worsen the outlook for the availability of these critical resources. Climate change analysis suggests that the severity of existing weather patterns will intensify, with wet areas getting wetter and dry and arid areas becoming more so. Much of the decline in precipitation will occur in the Middle East and northern Africa as well as western Central Asia, southern Europe, southern Africa, and the US Southwest. We are not necessarily headed into a world of scarcities, but policymakers and their private sector partners will need to be proactive to avoid such a future."

BOOSTING CLIMATE ACTION IN THE WORLD OF BUSINESS

That kind of proactive thinking involving policymakers and the private sector fueled the recent meeting of the signatories of Caring for Climate (C4C), the UN's climate action platform for the corporate sector, with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha, held in connection with the 18th Conference of Parties (COP18) to the UNFCCC in Doha, Qatar. The meeting marked the second COP interaction by C4C signatories following the UNFCCC's agreement in September 2011 to join forces on the C4C initiative.

Echoing the NIC's belief in private-public cross-sector collaboration, UNFCCC executive director Christina Figueres affirmed that "the role of business is crucial in the fight against climate change." She added, "By showing leadership and taking significant action on the ground, businesses can create the political space that governments need to raise their respective levels of ambition to curb greenhouse gas emissions and create more climate-resilient societies, which in turn can boost business action."

UN GLOBAL COMPACT: THE PIED PIPER OF THE CLIMATE WAR

C4C was launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2007 as a joint initiative of the UN Global Compact (UNGC) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to promote the corporate sector's role in the fight against climate change by supplying the necessary framework for businesses, public policymakers and the public to align climate strategies and attitudes.

In addition, C4C encourages partner businesses to publicly disclose emissions as part of the existing disclosure commitments that exists within the UNGC system. The initiative has been endorsed by almost 400 companies from 65 countries.

"I encourage each of you to lead by example as a participant of the UN Global Compact," Ban told the business leaders at the Doha meeting. "Other companies and governments will have no choice but to follow."

INCREMENTAL PROGRESS, LACK OF POLITICAL WILL

The goal of the Doha climate change summit was to set an actionable plan toward the establishment of a world treaty to be signed in 2015 that would be the global response to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to a level that can prevent the planetary surface temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius. For many years, the scientific community has warned that hitting the 2-degree mark would lead to a host of plagues upon our planet, such as increased glacier melt, sea-level rise, extreme weather events, floods, droughts, forest fires, desertification, mass species extinctions and food shortages. Worryingly, a study recently published in the journal Nature concludes that the 2-degree rise in inevitable, and could potentially be in the range of 4 to 6 degrees, which would be very scary indeed.

Fulfilling the low expectations of the Doha summit, negotiators "were successful in making progress, but only incrementally," reports Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute. "The lack of political will was breathtaking, particularly in light of recent extreme weather events."

TIME TO CHOOSE: MARKET FORCES CAN BE GOOD OR BAD

Now that Doha is over, policymakers have another year to work on the 2015 agreement before next year's COP meeting. On the corporate side, concerns have been amplified by new research released by the Carbon Trust that has revealed that many businesses around the world are not adequately prepared for the resource scarcity that will occur in the coming decades. Over 50 percent of the 475 corporate executives surveyed across the United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, China and Korea, for example, have not set carbon emission, water usage and waste reduction goals.

"The research shows that many organizations are asleep at the wheel when it comes to addressing sustainability and resource scarcity, doing nothing to address a problem they indicate could hit their operations by 2018," said Tom Delay, Carbon Trust's chief executive.

Hopefully, initiatives like C4C will entice more businesses to join the sustainability bandwagon, because the quantifiable private sector response to climate change and resource scarcity may ultimately prove more crucial that any international—and likely unenforceable—agreement between nations. As Mark Perry, a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan's School of Management recently noted, the 2012 level of C02 emissions in the United States—its lowest figure in two decades—"happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action."

The gathering of corporate executives in Doha was definitely a step in the right direction. But for many businesses, a wake-up call is still in order.

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NOTES

National Intelligence Council. Global Trends. dni.gov. December 10, 2012. Accessed December 14, 2012.
National Intelligence Council. Global Trends Report. Page 30. dni.gov. December 10, 2012. Accessed December 14, 2012.
Ibid., p. iv.
United Nations Global Compact. Corporate Climate Champions Meet at COP18. unglobalcompact.org. December 5, 2012. Accessed December 10, 2012
Ibid.
Glen P. Peters, et. al. The challenge to keep global warming below 2 °C. December 2, 2012. Nature. Accessed December 14, 2012.
Jennifer Morgan. Reflections On COP 18 In Doha: Negotiators Made Only Incremental Progress. WRI Insights. December 14, 2012. Accessed December 14, 2012.
Kristine A. Wong and Carbon Trust. Infographic: Companies unprepared to address resource scarcities. Greenbiz.com. December 13, 2012. Accessed December 14, 2012.
Mark Perry. Thanks to Market Forces, Technology, and Private Sector Activity, C02 Emissions Drop to 20-Year Low. mjperry.blogspot.com. August 17, 2012. Accessed December 14, 2012.

image: UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon (C), joined by Achim Steiner (L), UNEP Executive Director and other delegates at the Doha Climate Change Conference. Credit: sallie_shatz (Flickr)

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