Paul Polman: Paris deal represents greatest business opportunity of the century

The chief executive of one of the world's most sustainable corporations has hailed the adoption of the historic climate change accord in Paris as "an unequivocal sign to business and financial communities" that a zero-emissions economy is now a realistic future.

Paul Polman, whose British-Dutch consumer goods firm Unilever has topped numerous green business rankings for its action on climate change, believes the Paris agreement signed on Saturday (12 December) “is just the beginning” of an unprecedented project to decarbonise the global economy.

In a statement issued by Unilever earlier today, Polman said: “Today’s agreement demonstrates without question that it is possible for us to come together in common cause to address the greatest challenges we face, preventing tragedy for the many millions of people vulnerable to the effects of climate change and securing the economic prosperity of the world in the 21st century.

“The consequences of this agreement go far beyond the actions of governments.  They will be felt in banks, stock exchanges, board rooms and research centres as the world absorbs the fact that we are embarking on an unprecedented project to  decarbonise the global economy.  This realisation will unlock trillions of dollars and the immense creativity and innovation of the private sector who will rise to the challenge in a way that will avert the worst effects of climate change.

“Governments, businesses and people everywhere now clearly realise that the cost of inaction far exceeds the cost of action.  Achieving a zero emissions economy is the greatest business opportunity of the century.”

Sustainability leader 

Particular highlights of the two-week talks for Polman include the billions of dollars pledged by developed countries will be matched with the trillions of dollars that will flow to low carbon investment; along with the leadership action taken by hundreds of businesses – for example to move to 100% renewable energy, which Polman now believes “will become the norm for hundreds of thousands”. 

Having joined Unilever in 2009, Polman has overseen a radical transformation of the company’s approach to sustainability, driven by a bold pledge to halve the environmental footprint of the company by 2020. Unilever has already achieved zero waste to landfill  across its global factory network; saved a million tonnes of CO2 since 2008; and committed to using 100% renewable energy through the RE100 programme.

On the eve of the Paris summit, Unilever announced another bold new sustainability target; to be carbon positive across its operations by 2030. Polman is now calling on the entire business community to use COP21 as a springboard for climate action.

Business action

“Businesses can now press forward with their ambitious plans knowing that the governments of the world have set a clear direction of travel and will implement the policy frameworks to support them,” Polman added.

“Paris is just the beginning. It now falls to all of us, whether in business, government, finance or civil society, to work together to take the promises on paper and turn them into action on the ground.”

The historic climate agreement has been met with excitement and relief  by green groups and businesses alike, after more than 190 countries famously agreed to a legally-binding deal to limit global warming to 2C. Read full industry reaction to the deal here.

edie staff

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