As we prepare for yet another international conference on climate change – the 21st UN organized COP – this time in Paris, many people ask themselves what, if anything, is different this time around. While the climate is on a consistent and scary path to a +2 degree warmer state, for years there has been an incredible apathy among policy makers, international leaders, corporate decision makers as well as «normal people». Whether one does not recognize scientific evidence, or is a firm believer in shifting to a green and low carbon society – little change has happened and the world has still not seen the stringent, international, overriding agreements needed to curb the global greenhouse gas emissions.
Some people believe time is running out, and that our future looks bleak. Time is short, but I still believe there are genuine reasons for hope.
Looking back 15-20 years – environmental issues primarily received attention when they had local impact. Emissions to the air and to the water that were visible and somehow threatened our everyday lives, became part of the daily political agenda. Many environmental challenges were solved – with active involvement from local societies, companies and politicians.
But when the discussions moved from local rivers, city smog or threatened wildlife to the global challenge of climate change, much of the stage was vacated. Left standing to sort out the «real serious stuff» where national leaders – spurred on by the UN, climate scientists and a selection of environmental NGOs with hugely differing priorities. «Normal people» were hardly visible, and seemed to entrust their leaders with the task of finding common ground with the rest of the global community. When numerous COPs came and went without any signs of identifying solutions, or global agreements materializing – many felt climate change was not as serious as communicated. Others just felt such a distance to the problems – and were pacified to a state of inaction. The corporate world was at best inactive, and played a very limited role in identifying effective solutions. More often than not, corporate leaders would rather oppose climate action, and attempt to limit national targets and ambitions.
There are still vocal climate deniers around and a desperate fossil industry clinging to old arguments. But something is stirring. Something BIG is about to change.
1. Leading CO2-emitting nations are competing to be frontrunners before COP21.
In 2015 the US, China, India, Brasil and a list of other countries have all committed to more ambitious CO2 targets than ever before. The EU provided their INDC, a «target to beat» in March 2015, pushing to reduce domestic EU greenhouse gas emissions by «at least 40%» by 2030, against a 1990 baseline. Although there are nations consistently taking a more defensive stand – like Australia and Canada – there are yet numerous examples of countries pushing hard for tougher emission targets and binding agreements.
2. Fossil markets are experiencing disruption of historic proportions.
Oil prices are more than halved the last year, investment levels in renewables surpass those in fossil fuel capacity, «hidden» fossil subsidies are being slashed and a «movement» to divest from the sector is gaining momentum. Add the existence of cheap shale gas, security of supply issues in Russia and the oil-rich Middle-East still riddled with conflicts. All indicators point to renewables as the preferred source of energy.
3. Decoupling of economic growth and CO2 emissions is happening.
Since Sweden introduced its carbon tax in 1991, it has shown that decoupling economic growth and CO2 is possible. Now finally other countries are following, and in 2014, for the first time ever, the decoupling is shown on a global scale.
4. «Democratic» energy revolution challenge utilities
Renewable technology costs have not only plummeted to unheard of levels, but has spurred a «democratic» energy revolution – where creating «your own power» is not only possible, but also fun and engaging. Traditional utilities are among the losers, and are being forced to change their perspectives – fast.
5. A green business transformation is on the way.
Creative initiatives are rapidly growing into sustainable and powerful businesses in various sectors. Often driven by young entrepreneurs with a fresh view. Elon Musk and Tesla is only one of many examples. Instead of being interesting for a few, these are becoming proven solutions for many – transforming industries along the way.
6. Sustainable companies outperform their competition.
This proves a clear link between business leadership on climate change and creating shareholder value. A study by CDP of S&P 500 companies shows that corporations that are actively managing and planning for climate change secure an 18% higher return on investment (ROI) than companies that aren’t – and 67% higher than companies who refuse to disclose their emissions.
7. Along with leading cities & municipalities, the corporate world is moving to centre stage of the climate discussion.
A power shift is in the making. Cities are quickly becoming the hotbed of green solutions, and are collaborating actively through networks like C40 and ICLEI. And instead of local communities being dislocated from national climate policy discussions, their leaders and their inhabitants are now showing by example how deployment of climate friendly solutions also are good for the local environment, human health and job creation.
Recognizing that curbing climate change is critical to securing long-term value creation, multinational companies are teaming up in various networks. Numerous corporate initiatives are forming like the RE100 and WeMeanBusiness.
With smart climate policies in place, companies and investors will unleash investment, spur innovation, grow more jobs and create a better, stronger economy. These networks consist of committed companies across all industries who pledge to reduce their carbon footprints, commit to renewables and report their efforts in a transparent fashion. These companies are now taking one additional step, namely actively to influence the climate agenda. They are NOT looking for «an easy way out», but are instead pushing national leaders to commit to even more stringent and ambitious goals at the Paris climate negotiations in December.
Joining progressive nations, corporate leaders and impacted municipalities, Pope Francis in June warned of an «unprecedented destruction of ecosystems» and «serious consequences for all of us» if humanity fails to act on climate change, in his encyclical on the environment, published by the Vatican.
Climate negotiations at COP21 in Paris may prove to be yet another point in history where special interests, political indecisiveness and local squabbling distorts the possibility of doing «the right thing». However, with massive scientific evidence piling up and visible signs of climate change already creating havoc and spurring expensive mitigation, there does seem to be a global awakening.
Just in time.