Notes From the Road to Copenhagen

Notes From the Road to Copenhagen

The first stop on the way to the COP15 negotiations in Copenhagen this December is, well, here in Copenhagen.

The World Business Summit on Climate Change just concluded Tuesday. This event brought business leaders from across the globe to Denmark to debate and provide input from the business community into the international negotiations to develop a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Along with two of my colleagues at Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), I was invited to run one of the workshops that form the backbone of this event, with ours focusing on value chain solutions to building a low-carbon economy.

The great and the good of the climate community were here, with the explicit goal of presenting recommendations to Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, whose nation is hosting the crucial negotiations in the fall. From Al Gore to actress Cate Blanchett, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to electric car entrepreneur Shai Agassi and the CEO of the China National Offshore Oil Corp., the event had considerable star power.

But there was also a clear seriousness to the summit. The self-selected groups of businesses here were clearly convinced that a deal in Copenhagen this winter is in their interest, as well as in the interest of the planet. The summit reinforced a view that we at BSR have been conveying to our members with increasing frequency: A smart approach to climate involves both operational and public policy dimensions. As Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers said, “We need to move from nice talk to hard talk … and get on a path to scarcity [regarding emissions credits].”

This gathering also revealed the rapid increase in expertise that has developed in many of the world’s leading businesses in recent years. Topics that were once the sole province of policy wonks are now core business questions. The summit featured explorations of key mitigation and adaptation strategies, with CEOs and company chairs digging into the details of deforestation and green building, along with more familiar topics like measurement and innovation.

There was a strong consensus that all possible approaches must be explored, with the possible exception of the always-controversial nuclear power. The event also reinforced the immense challenge of pulling together a truly global effort.

BSR’s workshop featured a look at the pivotal role that value chains play in both creating and reducing troubling emissions. Carbon constraints, among other natural resource price and availability issues, are having a fundamental impact on the basic economics of supply chains. That presents the risk. There is also an important opportunity to redesign value chains with a greater emphasis on efficiencies, transparency, and better engagement among value chain partners to build more resilient models.

Our workshop gathered speakers including Paul Polman of Unilever, as well as U.K. Minister Gareth Thomas, SAP’s Chief Sustainability Officer Peter Graf, and Morten Engelstoft, COO of Maersk Line. We explored value chain strategies, partnerships, innovations, and public policy frameworks, all in support of a vision that takes full advantage of the global web of commercial relationships that may well be better positioned to deliver change than policies that remain fixed within national borders.

The dialogue in Copenhagen reinforces the view that, just as labor conditions in supply chains were dominant corporate responsibility issues in the 1990s, decarbonizing all elements of complex value chains is poised to be a defining feature of the sustainability debate as the first decade of the 21st century draws to a close.

BSR’s background briefing for the summit presents our overview of how this issue is emerging and what companies can do to shape positive outcomes. A model that includes remaking procurement strategies, rethinking relationships embedded in value chains, looking for technological innovations, and engaging policymakers and consumers will deliver great results.

We are poised to continue our wide-ranging work in this area, which includes our Clean Cargo and Beyond Monitoring working groups, heat-mapping projects undertaken with our member companies, and solutions through multi-stakeholder environments like the summit.

Value chain solutions are but one critical element of the path to Copenhagen in December.  A combination of policy frameworks, technological innovation, new market mechanisms, and changed consumer behavior all will be required. Success at COP15 in December won’t guarantee success in avoiding catastrophic climate change, but failure will be a disaster.

Aron Cramer is president and CEO of Business for Social Responsibility.

* Photo credit: CopenhagenClimateCouncil/PeterSørensen ©