Leadership Void at COP17 Creates Private Sector Opportunity

Leadership Void at COP17 Creates Private Sector Opportunity

Suit and tie image via Shutterstock.

The news is not particularly encouraging for the health of the planet these days. During the United Nation's climate talks in Durban, South Africa, we learned from the Global Carbon Project that global emissions reached a new record high in 2010. This means that not only are we not slowing down emissions fast enough, we are actually accelerating in the opposite direction. The current state of the climate negotiations has, so far, done little to stop this race to the bottom.

Yet in spite of -- or more likely because of -- this slow and cumbersome consensus-building process, an interesting and encouraging trend has begun to emerge over the last few years at this annual international climate meeting that may just show us where the current leadership lies in the fight against climate change. 

Beyond the negotiating halls of the Durban International Convention Center, the story is one of partnership, innovation and a sense of common purpose. As has become the norm during these yearly negotiations, parallel events are taking place to highlight the voluntary actions of a range of corporate, NGO and inspired political leaders that are not waiting for country delegations to reach a consensus before taking immediate, no-regret actions.  

Only a few blocks away from the convention center, where delegates representing more than 190 countries gathered to determine the fate of the Kyoto Protocol and other pressing matters, representatives from nearly 600 corporations, NGOs and other organizations gathered at this year's World Climate Summit to highlight the role of private sector in the fight against climate change and deliver a rare bit of good news in what is otherwise a frustrating political process. 

As negotiations have stalled over the last few years, events such as the World Climate Summit have increasingly shown that the private sector is willing and able to act in the absence of clear climate policy. Companies such as Siemens, Coca-Cola and Nedbank demonstrated that they are not only embedding sustainability into their operations, but turning green into a competitive advantage. 

Further evidence of this growing trend, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation recently announced that green lending jumped eightfold in 2010 to top $1 billion. President Zuma kicked off the Summit by urging business leaders to "not wait for outcomes in Durban. Forge ahead, there are many opportunities to pursue."

Our own organization, Conservation International, announced a range of partnerships meant to spur investment in green growth. One such new initiative in Indonesia is the Sustainable Landscapes Partnership (SLP), which is an important new vehicle for demonstrating the value of private public partnerships focused on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, or REDD+.

The SLP began as a partnership among CI, USAID, the Walton Family Foundation and the Indonesian government, with $20 million in funding over a five-year period.  The initiative is an innovative public-private partnership focused on developing proof-of-concept REDD and low-carbon development projects. The SLP's initial goals are to conserve more than 5 million hectares of high-biodiversity habitat in Indonesia, and to prevent more than 100 million tons of CO2 emissions through conservation and sustainable forest and land management. This effort will also support the creation of markets for sustainably sourced products and supply chain efforts.

Another strong example of the growing momentum around public-private sector collaborations is CI's partnership with the Althelia Climate Fund, which was launched only a few weeks ago and is expected to be the largest public-private REDD+ investment fund, by injecting nearly $300 million into forest carbon and sustainable land-use projects over the next three years. 

The Althelia fund is set up as a public-private partnership that includes BNP Paribas, the Church of Sweden, consultancy Allianz Climate Solutions, the Dutch development finance institution FMO, and CI. All projects funded will be required to meet rigorous standards around climate, local communities and biodiversity to ensure the investments deliver compelling social and environmental value.

These two activities are just the tip of the iceberg. Momentum for large-scale change is building and multi-stakeholder partnerships are driving innovation and increasing ambition.     

We all want and demand a comprehensive climate treaty that will reduce global emissions and avoid catastrophic climate change. This is non-negotiable. But we also require immediate action. For the time being, it seems like we may just have to look over the walls of the U.N. convention center to find it.

Let's hope this private sector action and leadership inspires leadership inside these hallways, too.

Suit and tie image via Shutterstock.