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Global businesses must lead the way on climate action

Global businesses must lead the way on climate action

Published on May 19, 2015
Op-Ed by Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development and President of COP21 and Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, in "The Guardian" - May 19, 2015

Major business leaders will gather in Paris this week for the Business and Climate Summit. It comes six months before the Paris climate conference, COP21, the aim of which is well known: to reach a universal agreement limiting the rise in global average temperature to 2C above pre-industrial levels.

Until recently, action against climate change was trapped in a sort of vicious circle: many businesses were waiting for political decisions before taking action, while governments, for their part, were waiting for a mobilisation of the private sector.

Now the situation is changing. Firstly, most governments are committing themselves.

To date, nearly 40 countries – including the 28 member states of the European Union, the US, Mexico, Gabon, etc – have submitted their “national contributions” – that is, their commitments in terms of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to climate change. We are counting on all countries to join this collective effort and submit their contributions before the deadline of 30 October.

Secondly, many businesses now include climate action in their long-term strategy and their daily activities. General Motors, Google, Amazon, Apple have signed major agreements on renewable energy use. A few weeks ago, 43 business leaders from companies in over 150 countries, declared their responsibility to support sustainable development.

Ikea, Toshiba Corporation, AkzoNobel, Enel, Hindustan Construction Company, ING Group, Marks & Spencer, Suez Environnement and other large and medium-sized enterprises have undertaken to reduce their environmental impact by setting goals to lower their emissions and their energy consumption. They have also committed to promoting innovative technologies and incorporating climate risks into their decision-making processes.

These positive developments can be explained by a general increase in awareness and by business interests.

One thing is gradually becoming clear: investing in green growth, which is the growth of the future, can be a source of profit and employment. A report by the Carbon Disclosure Project shows that businesses which actively take into account the issue of climate enjoy 18% higher returns on investment than those that do not.

For a long time, climate action was seen as a cost rather than an opportunity, whereas today, the debate centres on the cost of taking no action. According to some estimates, inaction to combat climate change could cost $28tn (£18tn) globally by 2050.

As we head towards COP21, we expect business leaders from around the world to call for ambitious policies and to join this collective effort themselves by taking concrete steps, for example by setting themselves a target of 100% renewable energy use, or progressive emission reduction targets.

The efforts made by businesses – along with those made by cities, regions and civil society – are obviously no replacement for the crucial measures that must be taken by states, whose action is decisive, but they will strengthen these measures. The central – and fair – idea is that governments should not be the only ones combating climate change.

The Paris climate agreement that we are working actively towards will not provide an immediate solution to the problem of climate change, but it can and should provide a way forward.

Today, we are convinced that a large number of public and private stakeholders are ready to commit, in specific ways, to building a more sustainable world. The time for climate action has therefore come, and businesses need to play their full part.

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