4 Reasons Why COP17 Matters

4 Reasons Why COP17 Matters

The 17th session of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP), is scheduled to open in Durban, South Africa, next week, on November 28.

The accelerating need for action and agreement is at odds with the pace of the negotiations. Just last week, the IPCC released a report that confirms the risks and costs associated with climate change.

The COP 17 host continent, Africa, is particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts. Lou Leonard, leader of Climate Change at WWF, acknowledges that the U.S. too is vulnerable: "The U.S. had 14 billion-dollar natural disaster events this past year; the costs to governments and industry just keep ballooning." Even so, COP talks have not yet yielded a legally binding protocol to reduce climate change impacts and enable adaptation.

International policymakers have been as stalled by partisan interests as our national leaders. Expectations for this year's U.N. conference are mixed. Ernst and Young reports in "Durban Dynamics: Navigating for progress on climate change" that although the majority of business executives see binding international agreements on emissions cuts as essential, few believe it will happen in Durban.

So, why then pay attention to COP 17?

The Climate Action Network hosted a conference last week in which industry and NGO leaders highlighted four reasons:

1. The Kyoto Protocol is not the end game.

There is a risk that the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N.'s first ambitious attempt to secure multi-lateral commitment on GHG reductions, might collapse. Yet for many insiders, the Kyoto Protocol is not the end all. The focus has shifted to building a framework that better enables agreement.

According to several NGO leaders, the Cancun talks successfully laid the foundation for such a framework. "We are not going to get a treaty in Durban," states Lou Leonard flatly. "It's more important now that we lay out a road map and a mandate by which we will get agreement."

There is clear recognition that such a road map -- with financing, technology and other considerations -- will require more cross sector effort and more than just government investments. As for the Protocol, the real risk is perceived collapse of climate change negotiations.

2. COP 17 will be "The Finance Talks."

Past COPs have made it clear that establishing funding parameters and identifying funding sources for clean energy, emission mitigation, and adaptation is critical. COP 17 will focus on the Green Climate Fund.

The Fund is intended to finance climate change action, both adaptation and mitigation, in developing countries. It is an important signal for the private sector. Industry leaders will be looking to see whether government leaders can establish infrastructure for the Fund and secure agreement as to funding sources.

3. The world is watching the U.S.

Last year, the two world leaders, the U.S. and China, were bickering about transparency and accountability. According to NRDC's Jake Schmidt, the dynamic this year is different. "There is more constructive dialogue between the two countries."

This year, the world is very much watching the U.S. The question: Will the U.S. show that it has a plan to reduce emissions and to act on the country's commitments? In the lead-up to COP, Obama's decisions on two relevant issues -- the Keystone Pipeline and emissions standards for power plants -- signal what might be expected from the U.S. in Durban. What happens in the U.S. matters greatly to these international talks, and similarly what happens in Durban matters domestically.

4. Business leaders are increasingly involved -- across sectors and continents.

Industry leaders are increasingly involved in the COP talks. As clean energy deployments in over 80 countries have skyrocketed, clean energy suppliers and adopters need assurance that governments will support this market.

In addition, COP 17 will work to establish a technology center that will serve as a hub for leveraging and deploying climate monitoring, management and adaptation solutions in different countries. This will require significant collaboration with technology and information industry leaders.

Two significant business events in Durban that are concurrent with COP 17 intend to elevate the voice and influence of industry at the talks:

The World Climate Summit. This organization will host its second event on December 3 -- 4th with leaders from Ernst and Young, PWC, Coca Cola, Phillips.

Business for the Environment (B4E). B4E is gathering leaders from Tata Steel, Bank of America, HP and others on December 6 to discuss a clean industrial revolution.

The net of it is COP 17 matters. It matters because global warming is becoming a more pressing global problem that the world community must work together to address. The U.S. remains a global and industry powerhouse whose actions and example are of critical import. And, it's clear that industry must play a role in providing leadership, technology, and financing innovations.