3 Ways Businesses Can Pick Up Where COP17 Fell Short

3 Ways Businesses Can Pick Up Where COP17 Fell Short

Last week, in Durban, South Africa, over 190 countries concluded negotiations to frame new international commitments to address global climate change. COP17 was a crucial gathering because time is limited to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the legally-binding international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that is set to expire in 2012.

In spite of the imminent deadline, a new global agreement was not reached. Developed, developing, and emerging economy countries are too far apart to reach a shared vision. In addition, the financing to achieve the scale of mitigation and adaption estimated to be needed by 2020 isn't forthcoming.

The Green Climate Fund, established in COP16's Cancun Agreements, expects to bring $100 billion annually to fund technology transfer, reduce deforestation, and help people adapt to the impacts of dangerous climate change.

This year, the progress on the framework to establish the fund may have been made, but its coffers remain largely empty. Sufficient levels of financing for REDD+ (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks -- another key outcome from last year's Cancun Agreements) are pegged at 12-35 billion USD/year, yet government support for REDD+ remains far below this target.

Global warming continues, marked by the hottest year on record, and local communities -- particularly in coastal, tropical regions -- are increasingly vulnerable to climate change.

Perhaps in recognition of the urgent need for action, businesses and private investors are increasingly channeling finance for innovative solutions to global climate change. Here are a few examples that may be relevant for your company.

1. Invest in offsets from forest carbon markets

Despite the fact there's not yet a global agreement under the UNFCCC, hundreds of forest carbon projects, including REDD, are underway worldwide, and many are supported by private capital. In 2010 alone, roughly $178 million dollars was transacted on these voluntary markets, making them a promising platform for investing in climate change mitigation.

Further, new legislation in California makes the world's eighth-largest economy the second-largest carbon market. See the State of the Forest Carbon Markets 2011 report [PDF] for more, and learn more about the benefits these projects deliver to reduce carbon pollution, as well as for conservation and community development.

2. Consider public-private partnerships for adaptation and mitigation

Increasingly, global food and beverage brands seek to invest in their supply chains to improve the livelihoods of the farmers they source from, enhance their CSR profiles, and reduce the carbon footprint of their products.

The Danone Livelihoods Fund is one innovative model that provides up-front investment in climate change mitigation projects designed to benefit rural farming communities throughout the tropics.

The coffee trader EFICO, together with Anacafé (the National Coffee Association of Guatemala), the Rainforest Alliance and many others developed guidelines for "climate-friendly" farming -- practices that build resilience and adaptive capacity, increase carbon sequestration, and reduce emissions -- for tropical producers. Just this week, the first coffee farm in Guatemala was verified for implementing these practices.

3. Source from certification systems that deliver climate change mitigation

Given growing global demand for forest products, logging is inevitable -- but responsible logging is not. Forest Stewardship Council-certified forests increase forest area under conservation and restoration, reduce harvest volumes and impacts, and take strict measures to prevent unauthorized extraction and wildfires. All these keep more trees standing -- and more carbon intact -- compared to conventional forest operations.

Similarly, Rainforest Alliance Certified farms conserve and restore forests and other native ecosystems, optimize shade, minimize use of agrochemicals, conserve water and reduce waste, all of which lead to farms that store more carbon and emit fewer GHGs than common practice. Private sector demand for these products is strong and growing; there are dozens of products different global markets that bear the FSC and RAC logo.

So we concluded Durban without a legally-binding replacement to Kyoto, which we knew was a long shot. It's back to finding successes and exploring all the other options on the table -- from governments, to businesses, and everything in between. The next best steps to address climate change may well be coming from a company like yours.

Forest photo via Shutterstock.