COP22: Seven green business wishes for the Marrakesh climate talks

edie hears sustainability professionals, businessmen and environmental activists to round-up exactly what the green economy wants to see from the 22nd Conference of Parties (COP22) climate change talks in Marrakesh, Morocco.

In 2009, delegates from across the world flocked to Denmark for what are now referred to as the “Hopenhagen” climate talks as part of the COP 15 negotiations. Almost six years later, that hope has finally become a reality as we sit on the precipice of a global commitment to limit global warming to well-below two degrees.

The COP 21 conference in Paris at the end of last year ushered in an unprecedented global deal to mitigate climate change through emission reductions and climate financing from more than 175 countries. The Paris Agreement moved beyond hope and finally set a target for the world to strive towards.

That target has been on the periphery of every national decision regarding climate change and environmental policies. While some are clearly embedding these decisions more effectively than others, the fact that 175 countries appeared in New York just four months after Paris to put pen to paper and sign the Agreement highlighted not only the urgent need to bring the deal into force, but also the frantic ambition of the involved countries.

Last month, a host of European nations along with China, the US and India provided the significant commitments necessary to trigger the Paris Agreement and take it over the relevant ratification thresholds. More than 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions had officially ratified their intended climate contributions, and as of Friday (4 November) the Paris Agreement officially comes into force.

But as a new report from the United Nations pointed out earlier this week, even if the Paris Agreement is fully implemented and enacted upon, it would still only place the world on track for a temperature rise of 2.9-3.4 degrees this century – clearly not enough to avoid catestrophic impacts of climate change.

It is therefore crucial that the COP 22 conference in Morocco – which runs from 7-18 November – isn’t used by delegates to pat one another on the back for the Paris Agreement’s success, but is instead a platform for nations to decide how to actually enact the Agreement and work with the private sector to push beyond current commitments.

COP22: The green business wishlist

With all of the above in mind, edie has spoken to an array of business professionals to find out what they want to see happen at the COP 22 talks.

1) A loud corporate voice that steers governments away from the “last-chance saloon”

This week’s UN report highlighted the need for governments to harness the expertise of the private sector in order to ramp up climate ambition. Unilever’s chief executive Paul Polman last week insisted that all business should make bold climate commitments, and for some, COP22 provides the perfect platform to steer the low-carbon transition.

Forum for the Future’s principal sustainability advisor Iain Watt wants COP22 to encourage businesses and governments to up their “collective planetary game” which would see all businesses realise that climate action is essential for business prosperity, while also encouraging policymakers to push beyond current commitments.

“A strong corporate voice to loudly challenge the pernicious meme that action on climate change is ‘bad for business’ is needed,” Watt said. “COP21 marked a turning point in this regard, but as awareness of climate risk grows, any company with agriculture somewhere in its value chain should be shouting from the rooftops for global action to remain under 1.5C.

“I want to see a serious consideration of the implications of the 1.5C ‘aspiration’ that emerged at COP21, and commitments from governments to encourage greater – and quicker – action. I don’t think the participants or the world’s governments have truly internalised the urgency and severity of either 2C or 1.5C scenarios. To have a chance of meeting either of these goals, we need to up our collective planetary game immediately.”

The call for increased ambition was echoed by Friends of the Earth’s international climate campaigner Asad Rehman, who warned that current ambitions are “hurtling” the world towards a future where food, water and a safe home will be “a luxury for the few”.

“Tougher action on climate change is urgently needed to prevent the world speeding towards catastrophe,” Rehman said. “Governments are drinking in the ‘last chance saloon’ if the lofty goals of the Paris Climate Agreement are to be met.

“This month’s climate summit in Marrakesh is a real opportunity for the international community to ramp-up their ambition. This must include tougher pledges to cut emissions, more support for renewable power, and a genuine commitment to do their fair share to create a safer and cleaner world for us all.”

2) Transformational targets that allow businesses to drive the low-carbon movement

There are already frameworks in place that encourage businesses to deliver climate action plans. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the rise of science-based targets are both enabling sustainable development within the private sphere.

Yet some feel there is still a disconnect between the goals set by governments and the policies that have been introduced to catalyse the private sector. Marks and Spencer’s (M&S) director of sustainable business Mike Barry believes that COP21 was the culmination of “many years” of hard work and a developed and detailed action plan is the next step.

“COP22 starts the granular process all over again,” Barry said. “Developing the detailed practical plans to turn the ambition of COP21 into a deliverable, scalable pathway to a low-carbon future. In particular, we need to start to see how industrial sectors globally will transform themselves for this new economy and we also need to see climate addressed within the wider framework of the Global Goals recognising the social benefits of low carbon action.”

For the Carbon Trust’s managing director of business services Hugh Jones, COP22 is a chance for businesses to take leadership on the matter; to ensure that the world pushes towards a future where “sustainable business models will win”.

“The ratification of the Paris Agreement should be recognised and celebrated as a great start, but it is only a start,” Jones said. “Business has a real opportunity to take a leadership position and encouragingly we are seeing more commitment from the private sector than at any time in history. We believe in a future where economic prosperity and environmental sustainability go hand-in-hand.

“Companies need to address all aspects of their own operations and reach out across their supply chains to ensure that their business models are compatible with 1.5-degree world. More targets need to be set, aligned with science and backed up by strong senior engagement with proper accountability when these targets are missed. What is clear is that businesses ignore this at their peril.”

3) Create nurturing environments that highlight the business case for climate action

Some companies aren’t quite committed to the low-carbon movement. It is arguably irresponsible to call for a major change overnight, but the desire to create climate-resilient companies can be sparked when governments highlight the business case for it.

The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s (ECIU) director Richard Black previously claimed that a decoupling of emissions and the economy can occur when the political framework is correct. For Black, the severe threat of climate change is proving costly, meaning that governments need to implement the correct policies to ensure economic growth isn’t ignored during the climate battle.

“The longer-term picture is mixed: the impacts of climate change are getting more pronounced, but the means of addressing the problem are becoming more cost-effective,” Black said. “The challenge facing governments now, beginning with the next round of UN climate talks in Morocco, is how to accelerate the low-carbon transition in order to achieve their objective of keeping global warming well below 2C.”

npower Business Solutions’s head David Reed feels that the financial incentives to be found in aligning to the Paris Agreement can also be strengthened by individual policies and frameworks. In Reed’s case, it’s ISO 50001.

“Businesses have committed to slashing carbon emissions by 3.7 billion metric tonnes every year to 2030,” Reed said. “That’s the equivalent of taking over 1,000 coal-fired power stations out of use and is more than 60% of the total emissions cuts pledged at COP21. It’s a really positive step, but with the right support, it could be much higher.

“We have found ISO 50001 extremely helpful and estimate that if ISO 50001 was adopted on a global scale, the standard could save more than £1bn in energy costs and reduce carbon emissions by a further 6.5 billion tonnes. We’d like, in short, to see governments removing barriers and creating incentives that enable companies to be even more ambitious in their efforts to cut emissions and demonstrate the scale of the economic opportunity.”

4) Ensure market conditions are correct to enable greater investment in low-carbon innovations and solutions

The UK Government has been fighting off waves of criticism over the past 18 months due to significant subsidy cuts to renewables. Despite this, renewables have established themselves as a mainstream part of the energy mix, both in the UK and globally.

For fashion company Swarovski’s vice president of sustainability Dax Lovegrove, the new world of sustainability will be driven by the Paris Agreement – but largely delivered by the products and solutions that businesses offer. Lovegrove is calling for COP22 to provide the necessary tools that attracts and secures investment into market places that can deliver low-carbon benefits.

“It is superb to see the Paris deal ratified in record time and COP 22 provides a significant opportunity to build on this momentum,” Lovegrove said. “Governments now need to create the market conditions for cleantech and green consumer goods and services to really take off and businesses can be bolder in their investments in and promotions of such things.”

Another pioneer of the low-carbon product and solution sphere is Business Cubed founder Marcela Navarro, who – fresh from overseeing a new project aimed a de-risking low-carbon innovations – has called on businesses to collaborate as a means to promote cleantech innovations that can de-risk global climate mitigation battles.

“The world is now ready to take action,” Navarro said. “However, a company-by-company effort is not enough to progress at pace. Transitioning to a system’s approach that supercharges the ability to scale-up enabling technologies is required now. I have never been more hopeful in our collective ability to make a tangible difference.”

5) Re-define the relationship between basic human needs and climate change

The SDGs not only inspire action in the business sphere but also outline the global trends that need to be managed while pushing towards the 1.5C pathway. Goal 12 relates to consumption. Already, governments and businesses are striving to implement action plans and frameworks that promote the circular economy and reward sustainable consumption.

For Global Action Plan’s senior partner Chris Large, COP22 should dedicate time to ensuring the consumption patterns are altered to not only align resource management with global climate goals, but also promote behaviour change amongst consumers that boosts happiness.

“COP21 was a landmark moment for agreeing collective global action to tackle the issue of climate change,” Large said. “This coincided with the UN’s Global Goals being increasingly adopted by businesses as a positive vision for the future.

“For us to crack the issue of climate change, we must wrestle with the thorny issue of consumption [Goal 12]. It’s a tricky matter because consumption levels are intertwined with providing basic human needs and economic growth. But we can’t escape the issue that globally we consume around 50% more resources than can be replenished by the planet each year, and emit vast quantities of emissions in the process.

“The good news is that there are many benefits to changing consumption patterns. High consumption levels are increasingly linked to worrying mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and loneliness, and physical health conditions including obesity. Politicians, civil servants and businesses at COP22 should consider their role in driving this unsustainable and health-damaging over-consumption, and visualise a positive role for consumption in society.”

6) Mobilise climate finance to create opportunities for developing countries

As early as March this year, it looked as if the Paris Agreement might never come to fruition. Developing countries laid-out a five-page briefing as to why they might boycott the Agreement if developed countries didn’t deliver on climate commitments. With reports revealing that rich countries were failing to account for their “fair share” of global emissions – coupled with the fact that developing countries are most at risk to climate change – it seems that there was a global disconnect occurring.

Fortunately, these relationships are now being patched-up through a $100bn climate finance commitment. For Aldersgate Group’s executive director Nick Molho, COP22 should focus on how this pledge will be delivered.

“We should be careful not to expect grand announcements or another major milestone coming out of COP22,” Molho said. “Instead, what matters most now is that COP22 gets on with developing the detailed rules and work plans that will make the Paris Agreement a success over the long-term and seeks to do so without getting overly distracted by the outcome of the US elections on 9 November.

“Negotiators will have a lot to tackle from working out the rules to monitor countries’ progress towards their emission reduction pledges and how these pledges can be increased in the future to determining how the $100bn of climate finance per year pledged to developing countries by 2020 will be delivered in practice. COP22 should also be used to prepare the ground for countries to start working from 2018 onwards on increasing their emission cut pledges so these are more in line with the objective of limiting warming to well below 2C.”  

Molho’s calls for details on climate finance and the ramifications of the US election are shared by Tech UK’s head of programme, environment and compliance Susanne Baker. She suggested that COP 22 should develop the “Paris rulebook”, which sets into motion detailed action plans to financing and hitting climate targets.

“The ratification of the Paris Agreement was a huge achievement,” Baker said. “But it is one thing to sign a piece of paper; now we need the rules and policies to make it happen – the Paris Agreement rulebook – which needs to be completed by 2020.

“Most urgently, we need to assess the ambition gap and develop the pathway required to stabilise global temperatures. We need to better understand the targets that have been put forward and how they will be delivered in practice. And we need to key in the role of business in supporting delivery. Developed countries will also need to finalise how they intend to meet the pledge made in Copenhagen to provide $100bn by 2020. 

“Of course the outcome of the US election is going to be hugely impactful on the success of the meeting. We need the US at the table – the success of the Paris Agreement depends on it.”

7) Keep it simple

A simple point to end this list: don’t over-complicate things. We need to have the right legislation in place to stimulate climate action, but we don’t necessarily need new legislation; more financial instruments and more bureaucracy. 

So says green business advisor Shaun McCarthy, who chairs the Supply Chain Sustainability School. “It’s about action,” said McCarthy. “Businesses are making much more progress than governments in most cases, so it’s a about governments catching up with the more enlightened businesses when it comes to climate action. How can we start to use policy instruments that actually work for business and are able to be implemented by business? Because, ultimately, that’s where the action is going to take place.

“It’s also about getting to the right sort of financial instruments and not putting too much bureaucracy  around things. In the UK, I’ve lost count of the number of climate change finance instruments there are – we’ve created a really complex regulatory landscape around something that’s actually quite simple.

“So simplicity is key. Let’s have the right legislation; the right financial instruments to make some of these things happen. We always seem to bring in a new initiative and never sweep away the old one – it adds cost to governments to administer it, and adds cost to businesses to comply with it.”

The COP22 climate change talks take place in Marrakesh, Morocco from 7-18 November 2016. Stay tuned to edie for daily round-ups and in-depth analysis of all of the key talking points throughout the two-week event. Subscribe to our free newsletter here.

Matt Mace & Luke Nicholls

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