Business needs a unified voice en route to Paris 2015

It is clear that a strong business presence is necessary at the annual UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) to help governments come up with solutions for a global deal in Paris in 2015.

Indeed, governments will have a difficult time to do it all by themselves, mostly due to a lack of resources, technical knowledge and last but not least, finance.

Therefore, it is no surprise that this year’s UN climate change conference in Warsaw (COP19) was one of the most business-oriented and focused of any past COP Summits.

There are many reasons why this happened.

Firstly, the Polish government had official corporate sponsors of the COP -- something never done before which received a lot of criticism from civil society groups at the conference.

Secondly, the UN Global Compact organized, for the first time, a business event within the official COP negotiation grounds. The aim was mainly to link up businesses with negotiators to enable a dialogue and knowledge sharing. Some would argue this represents a potential conflict of interests, but others see it as a necessary relationship-building exercise to advance climate interests for all.

Thirdly, it was the first time in COP history that the host government organized an industry summit. In this case, it was the World Coal Summit organized with one of the largest fossil fuel lobby groups in the world: the World Coal Association. Despite lots of protest from NGOs, this conference garnered a lot of media attention, mostly because it was attended by the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres.

Fourthly, the French government, which is hosting the COP21 in Paris, where many believe a global climate agreement will be signed, has, much like the Polish government, been very business proactive.

Finally, it was the first time that there were so many business side events, most notably Climate Solutions with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and World Climate Ltd., the UN Global Compact Caring for Climate and UNEP’s Sustainable Innovation Forum.

It is hard to measure the impact and outcomes of all this business participation at COP 19. However, one new initiative launched by the International Chamber of Commerce and World Climate Ltd. aimed to understand what business wants from now until 2015.

The new initiative, “The Road to 2015,” held formal dialogues with more than 30 business stakeholders this year, and garnered their expectations for and perceived challenges to getting a global deal.

The results were pretty clear and very constructive. Most participants called for the following:

  • Creating a group for 2015 "G2015": Ashared bottom-up platform on "The Road to Paris 2015," to develop and communicate priorities for getting a global deal in 2015.
  • A clear roadmap with milestones: Clarify the building blocks of a new agreement and clear milestones for the work plan between now and 2015, which should be agreed before the UN Secretary General’s New York summit in 2014 with heads of state.
  • Realistic and comprehensive targets: More clarity by governments and negotiators on how agreed emissions targets need to be implemented and achieved by businesses, regions and cities and how business can and will contribute.
  • Bottom-up initiatives and commitments: Bottom-up initiatives that can deliver real results based on cross-sectional dynamics across the world.
  • Mainstreaming ready-to-use technology: From showcase to business case – mainstreaming ready-to-use technology in sectors such as buildings, one of the largest sources of global emissions.
  • New, innovative and business-oriented climate financing: New and innovative approaches to financing these bottom-up initiatives.
  • Communicating the business approach to climate change: Common message and direction, on the need for action on climate change, and how this could be achieved in the context of economic growth.
  • Showcasing best practices and scalable solutions: Of public and private partnerships.

Future business participation at the COPs greatly will depend on whether some or all these points are addressed. However, it is clear that if business does not have a strong, unified and constructive voice in parallel to and within the UNFCCC process, obtaining a global deal in Paris to curb carbon emissions will be very difficult.

Image by via Anirudh Kohl via Flickr