As COP17 gets underway, one cannot help but be struck by contrasting attitudes of governments here with many in the business community.
The deadlock and near debacle of the Copenhagen meeting two years ago is still fresh in everyone’s memory, and many still question the viability of the current U.N. process. There are 190-plus countries represented -- along with innumerable non-governmental, U.N. and business representatives -- here in Durban for two weeks of negotiations to define the future of the Kyoto Protocol, and the possibility of a longer-term and more inclusive agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. It doesn’t get much more multilateral than that.
In our view, while it is challenging to discuss complex environmental and economic issues with nearly 200 sovereign governments, what has hobbled progress is not the number of countries, but rather the burden of numerous decisions and agreements which have come before, and now serve as binding precedents.
Chief among these is the fact that developing countries are not obliged to adopt binding reduction targets, based on ingrained references to differentiated responsibilities for developed and developing countries that date back to the early days of this 20-year-long U.N. process.
Yet much has changed in those two decades. Some countries that were developing countries then, such as China and India, are now growing rapidly and are major economic forces in their own right. If current trends continue in the fastest growing developing country economies, reductions made in developed countries will be cancelled out and overtaken by emissions in the BRICs in coming years.
The United States and other countries in the so-called Umbrella Group (which also includes Australia, Canada, Russia and Japan) have strongly encouraged a new framework that obliges all major economies and emitters, both from developed and developing countries, to take appropriate action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, as evidenced in the entrenched positions being expressed here, this is prevented by the precedents that do not allow updating to reflect today’s realities.
The private sector will be a key part of the solution to climate change. And so, while many countries in Durban continue to insist on a status quo that is two decades out of date, business organizations in the largest emitting countries have chosen to recognize economic reality. They have formed the Major Economies Business Forum on Energy Security and Climate Change (BizMEF), which brings together national cross-sectoral business organizations from five continents, representing millions of companies.
This grouping reflects both the major contribution of greenhouse gas emissions and the significant economic resources at the disposal of companies in those countries. Modeled after the government-to-government Major Economies Forum, BizMEF is a platform for these groups to:
• promote dialogue and exchange views on climate change and energy security across a broad spectrum of business interests including major developed, emerging, and developing economies;
• highlight areas of agreement among participating organizations on the most important issues for business in international climate change policy forums;
• promote economy-wide solutions to energy security and climate change that reflects the interconnectedness of the global economy by trade, supply and value chains; and
• share these views with governments, international bodies, other business organizations, the press and the public.
In Durban, BizMEF will be offering its recommendations in critical areas for business, including trade and competitiveness, investment and technology innovation.