As the residents of Durban return to normal life, and weary negotiators together with thousands of representatives of business and civil society try to make sense of the past two weeks, thoughts are turning already to Rio+ 20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June next year. So, what lessons might we take from COP17, what hopes dare we harbor for Rio?
Everything is Connected
We used to talk about climate change as an isolated issue. Then we started to wonder if "water is the new carbon" or, as CDP's executive chairman Paul Dickinson says, "If climate is the shark, then water is the teeth." Now we are talking about everything.
This ranges from the energy-water-food nexus, to integrated corporate reporting, and the U.N. push for "sustainable energy for all as a key approach to poverty reduction. The collective mind is gradually realising that everything is interconnected. Our natural resources, communities and economies all rely on each other in myriad complex ways. This leaves many of us overwhelmed. Just what are we trying to fix?
I believe that we are trying to fix the "greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen." [PDF] By working out how to internalize the costs of drawing down our finite natural capital we are aiming to solve humanity's greatest problems.
The intricacies and scale of the problem are too great for a conventional approach -- expect more creative collaborations between traditional "frienemies," including partnerships between NGOs and business. Look for double-edged solutions that solve two problems at once: cheap renewable energy to alleviate poverty, or water filtration systems that reduce the need to burn firewood.
Horizon of Change
A minority of those at Durban spoke as though the world should accept as a foregone conclusion that the global temperature will rise above the 2-degree target. While I reject this defeatist stance, the science makes clear that the longer we wait to take action, the more dramatic the required correction will be.
There are several business sectors positioned as candidates for positive disruptive change in the very near future. Within commercial real estate, it is possible that specialist fund managers will soon invest only in LEED-certified low energy buildings.
The automotive sector has an excited focus on the potential of electric vehicles -- just look at the proportion of engine research and development budget that is being put toward electronic vehicle production these days.
The news from India that solar prices in the latest government auction are falling so rapidly that some believe price parity with coal could be reached as early as 2016 sent happy shockwaves around Durban. It is incredible to think that India could experience a massive solar boom before we have a binding treaty.
Next page: The importance of cities as climate actors