Over two days in December 2011, while world leaders discussed global co-operation on climate change at the 17th annual Conference of the Parties (COP) climate change negotiations – also known as COP-17 – industry leaders proceeded with plans for combating climate change at the World Climate Summit.
The two events were co-located, held in Durban, South Africa.
The World Climate Summit
Held during the official United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) annual COP every December, the World Climate Summit is designed to provide a platform for business-focused climate change solutions.Article continues below…
More than 8,000 companies and 1,300 trans-national governments were involved in the 2011 summit, a cohort representing nearly $71 trillion in assets. To the 800 attendees, the goal was simple: to pioneer, develop and finance profitable green business opportunities; at least, it sounds simple enough.
The inaugural summit in 2010 had overflowed with hope and ambition. Aided by the appearance of major business leaders and clean energy stakeholders, those gathered in Cancun, Mexico, at the 2010 World Climate Summit were told that it is the private sector that can bring about the most meaningful change.
Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, American businessman Ted Turner and Lord Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics and Political Science were just a few of the names inspiring business leaders in 2010.
In 2011, it was less about the big names and their speeches and more about the actions of those bringing about a transformation to a clean economy. While major keynote speakers such as South African President Jacob Zuma, UNFCCC Secretariat Christiana Figueres, European Union Commissioner on Climate Action Connie Hedegaard and a host of chief executives and industry leaders still inspired the delegates, the focus of the summit was narrower and the rhetoric more ‘down to earth’.
Progress in 2011
Proceedings at the 2011 World Climate Summit were kick-started by Ms Figueres, who placed business at the centre of effective action on climate change. According to Ms Figueres, the politics of COP-17 were not about the politics at all – rather, they were about developing a “global business plan,” one with “a triple bottom line: enhancing adaptation, mitigation and poverty alleviation.”
To a nodding audience, Ms Figueres condemned governments worldwide for being both behind schedule on what current science demands, and also for not providing enough clarity to businesses on climate change adaption.
“Businesses have to work in a context of not perfect policy, which could take a while to mature,” Ms Figueres said. She urged businesses to do more to combat climate change of their own accord.
It was an effective message of urgency and of the need to accelerate action on global environmental problems, and it set the tone for a summit dedicated to doing more.
The forums and discussions were designed to turn that message into meaningful action. One major theme throughout the summit was the power of collaboration, both within the business community and with external organisations.
The Consumer Goods Forum, a global association uniting leading consumer goods retailers and manufacturers and representing $3 trillion in revenue, spoke about phasing out hydro fluorocarbons and committing to net-neutral deforestation by 2020 across their supply chains for four key commodities.
Coca-Cola Company executives spoke about teaming up with the World Wildlife Fund to demonstrate the tragedy that climate change presents for polar bears, using Coke’s polar bear mascot branding to tell stories and ultimately be drivers of change.
Business gets on board
Industry experts such as Juan Costa Climent of Ernst & Young advised attendees to reconsider what they value, and therefore are measuring on their balance sheets. If we value quality of life, opportunity and security, he argued, we must put a price on carbon and value nature’s services. Only then can a drive for innovation and investment to underpin prosperity and stability be achieved.
Mr Climent made the interesting observation that transparency, information and advice can speed up the process of change; once people have full information, he said, they will make the right choices.
This sentiment was echoed by Siemens Chief Sustainability Officer Barbara Kux, who highlighted under-used viable and profitable green technologies, such as LED lighting, that could in the medium term reduce global emissions by 38 per cent. If more people knew that the estimations of green market opportunities are already over $3.7 trillion and ever-increasing, the process of change would quicken tenfold.
Several other companies reflected on their efforts to become low-carbon, including Dow Chemical, FEMSA, and Puma.
Many roundtables with experts and business leaders were held. Alstom organised a private roundtable on clean energy as a path to sustainable development, while The European Investment Bank led a session on the creation of a low-carbon economy with businesses and financiers. Attendees were also able to network and develop partnerships in a room made completely from sustainable materials.
As an Australian, it was flattering to hear Australia repeatedly touted as a world leader in 2011 for implementing the political initiatives that will contribute to greening the world economy. One finance leader went as far as to claim Australia was acting as a “game-changer” in the Asia Pacific, in the beginning of what could be a shift in the epicentre of global carbon markets away from Europe and towards the Pacific Rim as a “powerhouse of low carbon investment.”
In a panel session about green technology innovations at the 2011 World Climate Summit, Australia was highlighted as being an area of rapid growth and innovation in clean energy technology and project management over the coming decade.
The Gigaton Prize, awarded by the World Climate Summit to the company that has contributed the greatest amount of ‘absolute’ carbon emissions reduction worldwide, was awarded to Chinese solar company Suntech. For the first time, in 2011 a special Gigaton Prize was awarded to the country investing the most in renewable energy, with Germany taking the honours.
The work of the World Climate Summit did not end when the summit itself ended, as the companies involved all pledged commitment to ambitious goals for lowering emissions and increasing investment in clean energy over the coming 12 months.
After two days of intense and innovative thinking, engaging discussions, and pragmatic planning from business and industry leaders alongside the UNFCCC COP-17, the 2011 World Climate Summit achieved a vital first step in triggering the level of action needed to bring about a low-carbon global economy and a transition towards clean, renewable energy.