Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Business is Being Prominently Highlighted at COP 19

COP 19 is focusing unprecedented attention on the business community. This is not merely a cosmetic attempt to be more inclusive, this is a common sense approach that acknowledges the critical importance of the business community. The business community can be both a tremendous ally and a powerful source of opposition. Getting them onside, or in some cases out of the way, is critical to meaningful climate action.

The role of business in managing the climate crisis cannot be overstated. UNFCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres has made it emphatically clear that the business community has a critical role to play. The recent Warsaw Business Day, Sustainable Innovation Forum and Caring for Climate events all highlight the role of business alongside the COP process.

As of right now there are 350 businesses that have joined the joint UN Global Compact caring for climate initiative (C4C). This body mobilizes companies to implement climate change solutions, publicly disclose emissions and help shape international public policy.

While politicians are commonly mired in partisan debates, business comes at the issue with a great deal more flexibility. Private firms are more agile and can make strategic decisions without having to pay heed to the same types of political considerations as elected officials (ie ratification in Congress or parliament). Shareholders are passing resolutions that are forcing publicly traded companies to disclose their exposure to risks associated with climate change and other environmental concerns.  Investors increasingly want to invest in more responsible companies as they rightly perceive this approach to provide better returns.

The science of climate change may be clear, but that does not stop those who have a vested interest in the old economy to muddy the waters with so called skepticism. There are a large number of corporations, (largely those associated with the old energy economy) who can be expected to continue to resist progressive action on climate change and other environmental concerns.

Corporations are using very sophisticated methods. In their effort to undermine climate science, some disreputable corporate entities have deployed pseudo-scientific front groups, which have been very successful in controlling the media and confusing public opinion.

Responsible players in the business community can help to offset resistance to progressive action. Responsible action from peers may be the best way to expose the subterfuge of recalcitrant corporate giants.

For most businesses there is a powerful logic driving them to embracing sustainability. In addition to short term incentives that reduce costs and enhance efficiency, the price of delaying action increases the longer we wait.

As Georg Kell, the executive director of the UN Global Compact explained,
"...further delay in installing greener practices and more resilient markets only adds to the total costs. With hesitancy among governments still noticeable, it is time for responsible business to step forward and send a clear message."
The business community has the power to influence government and shape policy. As stated by Kell,
"Make no mistake about it, the private sector voice is taken into account when governments review their own climate policies, or when they gather together to negotiate internationally...The private sector position offers important cover for politicians when they announce their intentions to act, or stand pat, as the case may be."
Businesses also possess unique strengths which are vital to global efforts to reign in climate change.
"It is generally accepted that, given the innate solution-finding strengths of businesses, they are adept at assessing risks, costs and opportunities." Kell said. "Many businesses in fact wield influence on a scale similar to that of governments – they collaborate within complex global supply chains and have brands that citizens engage with on a daily basis."
While the corporate world is increasingly adopting sustainability, the numbers are still too small to induce change on the scale needed. 

Kell says that "it is crucial for companies to act effectively on climate challenges, and just as strongly provide a proactive, constructive voice on policy."

Kell concludes by stating that progressive businesses must make their case to policymakers and industry fence-sitters.

He suggests five important steps the businesses can make:

1. Climate change is the test of business leadership in the 21st century.
2. The future of the global marketplace hangs in the balance.
3. Successfully addressing climate can trigger an era of sustainable prosperity.
4. Transformation is a viable possibility.
5. And climate change is an urgent ethical issue for the broader role of business in society.

© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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