The key business takeaways from COP23

So, COP 23 has come and gone, with little attention in the media. Expectations were for a technically focused meeting, working through some of the detail needed to bring the Paris agreement to life. Does this mean that there was little in it of business interest? Far from it, there were some important outcomes that provide real opportunities for business leadership. Here are my key takeaways.

The key business takeaways from COP23

Continued wrangling between developed and developing countries is stalling action

The idea that developed countries should be accelerating their own action to give developing countries time to address the poverty gap seems logical and fair. That developed countries, who have benefited most from historic carbon emissions, should also support their developing neighbours to finance carbon reductions and adaptation measures also seems right. 

However, these two issues were hotly contested in Bonn. In the end there was progress on accelerating action pre-2020 and conversations on financing seem to be moving in the right direction. 

The USA Federal Government is on its own against the Paris agreement

During COP23 Syria signed up to the Paris agreement, making the USA the only country refusing to participate. Interestingly, there was a significant ‘we’re still in’ delegation from cities, states and businesses, signalling that the view of Donald Trump’s administration is not representative of all his fellow countrymen.

With China showing increasing leadership on climate change, the launch of the ‘Powering Past Coal’ Alliance led by Canada and the UK, and the EU and UK pledging to make up the financial shortfall as the USA pulls funding for the UNFCC, it is encouraging that the decision to pull out seems to have galvanised wider global leadership, rather than diminishing it. 

It’s not just about energy any more

With the Paris agreement focusing on ‘carbon removal’, rather than ‘carbon reduction’, there are subtle but significant changes. The move towards ‘net zero carbon’, followed by ‘negative carbon’ emissions that reduce atmospheric concentrations of CO2e to pre-industrial levels is a clear aspiration. As a result, there is a growing focus on protecting and enhancing nature’s ability to remove (and not to release stored) carbon, as well as rapid decarbonisation. 

One of the areas that did come out as a significant move forward was in relation to agriculture, with a focus on soil health, livestock management and adaptation measures. It was also encouraging to see focus on the importance of diversity in decision making and solution finding, recognising current gender bias in thinking and practice and the importance of the voice of indigenous communities. 

So what does this mean for business?

It seems that the Paris agreement is taking time to move into an action phase, but from 2020 onwards this should accelerate. The key sticking points of geopolitical collaboration are ones that business is well placed to help unlock. 

With businesses making bold commitments to support a 1.5⁰C to 2⁰C limit through science based targets, and beyond that to net zero carbon, the ability of business to drive the change we need across their value chains has never been more powerful or more needed. 

At Business in the Community we are working with our members and partners to help find practical solutions to some of our shared challenges. Earlier this year we launched our report, ‘Smart Growth: achieving the 2⁰C economy’ report that set out the six key actions that our members think are the critical next steps for business.

We are also working with Defra, the Environment Agency and our members to explore how innovative financing mechanisms and the digital revolution can enable interventions that will solve some of our most pressing challenges, like making our cities more resilient and incentivising food and drink supply chains with stewardship of the land. 

Overall, it is encouraging to see even small steps forward and the joining up of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. There is a real opportunity for business to step up and accelerate progress towards a prosperous, zero carbon, and resilient economy.  I am very much looking forward to what we can create together.

Gudrun Cartwright, environment director at BITC 

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