It is entirely understandable the Cancun Summit has singularly failed to gain the media traction enjoyed by last year's Copenhagen Summit. The absence of global leaders and the fact the talks are merely a staging post for further negotiations next year meant the event was always going to have a lower profile, even before circumstances conspired to deliver rioting students, freezing temperatures and X Factor finalists to distract Britain's newspapers editors still further.
And yet, trawling through much of the coverage from Cancun (and there is still plenty to read coming out of the Moon Palace Hotel) it becomes apparent that not only are decisions being made that will have a huge impact on the global environment and economy, but the true scale of these impacts and their imminent nature is still not widely understood.
There is a well-documented tendency for journalists who cover a certain sector to go native. This can manifest itself in a number of ways, some positive – such as the ability of good journalists to build up networks of contacts and deep understanding of complex issues – and some negative, such as the temptation to believe sources' accounts rather too willingly. However, the most common failing is an assumption on the part of the reporter that because they are submerged in a topic the audience will also instinctively understand and appreciate the implications and significance of a story.
The coverage of Cancun has largely avoided this pitfall when it comes to environmental issues, repeatedly reminding readers the reason the summit remains critical is because without deep and urgent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, runaway climate change will wreak devastation. But on the economic front the media has proven far less effective at joining the dots and explaining why these international negotiations still matter.
I include BusinessGreen in that criticism. Looking back at our coverage from the past week we have kept you up to date with the machinations at the summit, but we have arguably failed to articulate frequently enough the manner in which the results from Cancun will affect businesses and livelihoods on the ground.
Admittedly, the economic impacts of the success or failure of any international climate change deal are well understood by those progressive businesses leading the development of the low-carbon economy (just as they are understood by those carbon-intensive businesses quietly lobbying to block progress towards a deal). But, as the former head of the UN climate change secretariat Yve de Boer has articulated recently, the reason the talks have struggled so badly over the past few years is because not enough corporate and political leaders understand the economic risks and opportunities presented by uncontrolled climate change and the emergence of a low-carbon economy.
So what are those economic impacts likely to be and how will the talks in Cancun help shape them?
Looking on the bright side, if we get a compromise in Cancun that ultimately leads to a binding agreement next year in South Africa based around parallel treaties or a hybrid of the extended Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord, a vast array of commercial opportunities will be opened up.
For example, any deal should deliver a huge expansion in the carbon market fuelled by the introduction of the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) mechanism and the long-awaited overhaul of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) offsetting scheme. An already multibillion-dollar market has the potential to go into overdrive, making good on predictions from several years ago that carbon would become the world's largest commodity class in the second half of this decade.
Similarly, any agreement on increased climate financing will have a dual impact on the world's businesses, imposing extra carbon costs as governments seek to raise funds through mechanisms such as a levies on aviation and shipping or auctioning of carbon credits, while also providing huge opportunities in emerging markets as a mooted $100bn (£63.4bn) a year from 2020 is ploughed into emission reduction and climate adaptation projects. Equally, any agreement on technology transfer deals between the rich and poor world should deliver huge numbers of new customers to the emerging clean tech hubs of Europe, Silicon Valley and the Middle East.
Even the more arcane elements of any deal, such as the talks to agree a system of Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) to ensure countries are meeting emissions targets, have commercial implications. After all, it is businesses that will have to report to governments on their emissions, just as it is businesses that will have to be inspected to ensure that data is accurate. Additionally, given that governments tend to outsource this type of work, it is likely to be businesses that provide the third-party verification of emissions reports – witness Google's launch of a satellite service for tracking deforestation if you want a shape of things to come.
Finally, and most significantly, the national emissions targets contained in any final agreement will provide renewed impetus to each and every country's efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and should lead to a further tightening of climate change regulations and a massive uptick in low-carbon investment.
However, if, as seems tragically likely at the time of writing, the talks falter around the vexed issue of the future of the Kyoto Protocol and Cancun ends with little tangible progress and more ill feeling, then the risks faced by businesses will become more pronounced and the opportunities, while still present, will become harder to navigate.
The biggest risk will inevitably be the existential threat presented by unchecked climate change, leading to potentially catastrophic impacts to the global economy as extreme weather events become more frequent and food and water supplies are disrupted.
But more immediate business risks will also emerge. Most notably, unless urgent action is taken next year the global carbon market, parts of which are legally enabled by the Kyoto Protocol, could be significantly damaged by the uncertainty surrounding the future of the treaty. And even if the future of the UN-backed Clean Development Mechanism trading scheme is somehow assured, the sector will continue to suffer as a result of the slow rate of reform to the rules governing the scheme. Similarly, early investments in REDD projects could become all but worthless without progress in Cancun towards a deal.
However, the greatest business risk (and continued opportunity) comes from the fact that even if the international negotiations descend into what Chris Huhne yesterday described as a never-ending "zombie conference", individual countries will not stop pursuing aggressive emission reduction plans.
They may hold varying positions in Cancun but the likes of the EU, China, Mexico, South Korea, Brazil, India, Australia, California and even Japan, which has been widely characterised as the villain of the summit for its stance on Kyoto, are not about to abandon their national and regional low-carbon strategies if the talks collapse. As evidenced by the World Bank's announcement this week that it is launching a new fund to support the rollout of national carbon trading schemes in the developing world, the adoption of innovative green policies will continue in some form regardless of whether or not diplomats choose to get along.
This is the silver lining for those clean tech firms operating in countries and regions that have embraced progressive climate change policies. But, as a report from Accenture pointed out this week, a national approach to tackling carbon emissions will inevitably result in the re-emergence of fears over 'carbon leakage' and trade measures, whereby carbon-intensive businesses will face commercial pressure to relocate to the countries with lax environmental regulations and politicians will face pressure to introduce carbon tariffs to try to stop that migration happening. In short, the world will become a much harder place to do business.
As mentioned, a lot of this is already well understood in progressive boardrooms around the world. But it needs to become universally understood if the global business community is to play its full and proper role in the fight against climate change and the battle to deliver a low-carbon economy.
The next few hours of the Cancun Summit will help to determine which route the international negotiations go down and as such every business on the planet, regardless of the day's other headlines, should be paying close attention and hoping for a positive outcome.
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