Business takes a chair at COP for first time

Business takes a chair at COP for first time

COP 19 is nearly upon us.  From 11 – 22 November 2013, Poland will host the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Warsaw and as usual, speculation abounds on the conference, with questions including:

  • Will genuine progress be made towards an ambitious global deal in 2015?
  • Will the recent IPCC carbon budgets be translated into meaningful decarbonisation targets that countries can adhere to?
  • Will the talks give countries and investors the confidence they need to take ambitious action?

What we do know is there will be an acute focus on the Durban Platform, i.e. the 192 participating governments must create a roadmap for a global and binding deal for signature in 2015. 

But unlike previous COPs, where businesses have either waited or convened unofficially on the sidelines; wondering if diplomats will thrash out a deal and how it will impact their bottom lines, this time they are invited.  At COP 19, an inaugural business council will run concurrently with the main conference, under the title: The Caring for Climate Business Forum.  The Forum will provide a platform for CEO’s of the globe’s 400 largest companies to engage in high-level meetings with government representatives, share experiences of climate action, and crucially put forward recommendations to bring greater scale and quality to corporate climate leadership globally.

Co-creating the solution with the public sector is a clear opportunity for business. It’s an authoritative shift from the few to the many, from dictate to co-create, that is likely to enhance trust in COP.   Considering that innovators, experts, NGOs and CEOs enjoy a trust premium over government officials, this shift toward public private collaboration should continue.

The logic of scaling the climate issue to corporates is clear: many businesses wield the same power as governments; they collaborate within complex global supply chains; plus have brands that citizens engage with on a daily basis.  Fundamentally, the focus on business this year seems to indicate the recognition that to address climate change, capitalism needs to be engaged in creating financial value – not hardship – for businesses.

For some governments, COP is an exercise in keeping a low profile and avoiding taking a stance in case it hampers productivity and economic growth.  As the Chinese proverb goes, “The first bird that takes wing is the first bird to get shot!”

Alternatively, many businesses (including many in the Far East) now frame climate change as a challenge that must be met proactively to seize first mover advantage, for example, through innovative low carbon design and manufacture, distribution and leasing models.

At the opposite end of the scale, climate risk is increasingly on the radar of investors, with economists such as Oxford University’s Smith School predicting a stigmatization and ultimate creative destruction of legacy business models, including some in the energy sector, giving way to new innovation.

This year one of the clear outcomes of COP may not come from politicians at all, it may be an agreement for business leaders to step forward in addressing emissions to make clean profit out of climate risk.

Nick Hay, Director, CleanTech, Edelman UK

Twitter: @naughtster

Photo credit: K.Jakubowska

Handy COP 19 web resources: