Businesses Hail 'Great Result' at Durban Climate Summit

Businesses Hail 'Great Result' at Durban Climate Summit

Business leaders have broadly welcomed the last-gasp international deal agreed in the early hours of the Durban Summit yesterday morning, which for the first time commits all countries to signing on to a new legally binding climate change treaty.

In dramatic scenes, ministers reached an agreement on a new text almost 36 hours after the scheduled close of the two-week summit.

The text, known as the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, will see the EU and a handful of other countries extend the Kyoto Protocol into a second commitment period, allowing for the continuation of emission reduction initiatives enabled by the treaty such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

In return all countries agreed to deliver a new protocol, another legal instrument, or an "agreed outcome with legal force" by 2015 that will then be enacted by 2020. The wording paves the way for large economies such as the US, China, India and Brazil to be subjected to legally binding climate change obligations for the first time.

The summit also agreed the structure for a new international Green Climate Fund with talks set to start next year on how to funnel $100 billion a year of finance to the fund each year from 2020.

Rhian Kelly, director for business environment at employers group the CBI, hailed the agreement as a "great result".

"Tangible progress towards a global deal in the form of a roadmap and the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol is a great result and shows that the UN process is not dead in the water," she said.

"However, this isn't a deal itself and must be used as the base camp for the mountain we're still to climb. We need to keep the momentum going and ensure this roadmap results in something concrete. Businesses have not slowed their pace in managing their emissions, developing new low-carbon products, and investing in new sources of low-carbon energy -- we need the same level of ambition from our politicians."

The influential Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, which brought together over 350 global firms before the Durban Summit to call for an ambitious agreement through its Two Degree Challenge Communiqué similarly welcomed the new deal.

However, it warned that the four-year delay until a legal agreement will be reached means that the onus is on governments to "adopt national-level policies that are ambitious, transparent, measurable, and build the foundations for a future international framework".

Sandrine Dixson-Declève, director of the Corporate Leaders' Group on Climate Change, said: "Hundreds of businesses have articulated the urgent need for international action on climate change. With this agreement, the result of long and detailed negotiations, governments have shown what is possible. However there is still a long way to go and keeping the world below the threshold of 2 degrees C warming remains a real challenge that cannot be put off till 2020."

Joan MacNaughton, senior vice president of power and environmental policies at engineering giant Alstom, said that businesses will welcome the progress made at the Durban talks on a number of technical issues, such as reforms to the CDM.

"The progress made on the Green Climate Fund, and bringing CCS [carbon capture and storage] into the CDM, are serious and valuable steps forward," she said. "Governments now need to implement the decisions quickly and provide the resources so that a wide portfolio of low-carbon technologies can flourish around the world."

David Hone, senior climate change advisor at Shell, similarly predicted a boost for the fledging CCS sector as a result of the decision to include it in the CDM, allowing proposed projects in the developing world to issue and sell carbon credits for the emissions they capture and store.

"This important technology now has the opportunity for global use under a clear set of rules that all countries have sanctioned," he said. "This seemingly small step forward is potentially a winning move for reducing emissions globally."

However, preliminary findings from a new survey of around 800 chief executives released today by PwC suggests that the majority of business leaders are not expecting the Durban Platform to have a significant impact on their operations.

The early findings of the PwC Global CEO Survey for 2012 suggest that the lack of progress in the international negotiations has affected few businesses, and that firms rank other global issues higher up their lists of priorities.

When questioned on how they plan to increase investment over the next three years, addressing the risks of climate change and protecting biodiversity ranked bottom of the list behind 'reducing poverty and inequality' and 'securing the natural resources critical for business'.

Last year only 27 per cent of CEOs named climate change among their biggest threats to growth, although climate-related risks such as natural resource security, natural disasters, and political instability featured higher up the list.

"This isn't about big business sticking its head in the sand on climate change," said Richard Gledhill, partner in the PwC sustainability and climate change division. "Their emphasis is shifting to engage more broadly across the sustainability agenda. Many multinationals are looking beyond carbon to the wider energy/water/food nexus and resource scarcity rather than waiting for action on a global deal."

However, his colleague Jonathan Grant warned that these businesses were not helped in their response to sustainability challenges by the latest agreement in Durban.

"The agreement reached was more of a victory for the UN process, than for the global climate, or in creating a new business imperative. Business will shrug its shoulders over Durban and wait for direction from national capitals," he said.

"There is still no more ambition here than what we saw in Cancun or even Copenhagen. What we got instead was a clear signal that we might get another clear signal in 2015. Business investment in low-carbon and climate change strategies has to fight for attention. Policy makers need to work with business, to help them do more, faster."

His comments were echoed by a series of green NGOs which warned that the Durban Platform needs to be urgently followed by new commitments to deliver deep cuts in emissions if the world is to stand any chance of avoiding runaway climate change.

"The UN climate change process is still alive -- but this empty shell of a plan leaves the planet hurtling towards catastrophic climate change," said Friends of the Earth's executive director Andy Atkins. "If Durban is to be a historic stepping stone towards success the world must urgently agree ambitious targets to slash emissions."

Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK, voiced similar concerns, warning that "the outcome of Durban leaves us with the prospect of being legally bound to a world of 4C warming".

"Governments have spent crucial days focused on a handful of specific words in the negotiating text, but have paid little heed to repeated warnings from the scientific community that much stronger, urgent action is needed to cut emissions," he said.

"Many countries came in good faith to seal a deal, but have been stymied by a handful of entrenched governments who have consistently resisted raising the level of ambition on climate change."

This article originally appeared on BusinessGreen.

Photo CC-licensed by UNFCCC.