COP21: David Cameron to highlight key role of business in tackling climate change

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Prime Minister to argue long-term Paris climate deal will provide investor certainty that low carbon economy needs

UK Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to underline the role that businesses can play in tackling climate change, during the opening day of UN talks in Paris today.

According to various reports, Cameron will use his five minute speech at the COP21 summit this afternoon to call for a long-term goal to be agreed to limit global warming to 2C.

"This will give certainty to businesses and the public across the world that governments are serious about decarbonising," he will say.

A number of countries, including the UK, have been calling for the summit to adopt a target to deliver net zero emissions at some point during the second half of the century. However, the proposal is facing opposition from a number of fossil fuel producing countries.

With around 150 world leaders attending the opening day of the talks, each will have just a short slot in which to address the conference about their hopes and expectations for the two weeks of talks. Cameron is not expected to speak until later in the afternoon, at some point after 2.45pm Paris time.

Cameron will set out three priorities for the conference, including calling on rich nations to boost funding for poor countries dealing with the worst impacts of climate change. The UK has championed its record on climate finance, having pledged 0.7 per cent of UK GDP to foreign aid, including £5.8bn over this parliament on climate finance.

Cameron will tell the conference he wants "a global deal for a global problem" and will argue much of the funding required will need to come from businesses.

"The issue of climate change is too large for governments alone to deal with. That is why business and private donors must play an active role in shaping our response to climate change, and enabling trillions of dollars of investment in clean technology," he will say.

The Prime Minister will also reiterate the UK's demand for countries to agree a robust legal framework that will require countries to deliver on their climate change targets.

"I want the deal in Paris to outline the role that businesses should play. We also need to give businesses long-term certainty for investment, which is why an ambitious long-term goal is so important," he will say.

However, back at home the Prime Minister has faced criticism for rolling back support for a wide range of green technologies, including solar power, wind farms and last week scrapping a £1bn competition aimed at commercialising carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

On Friday, 10 of the UK's biggest businesses, including Tesco, BT and Marks & Spencer, wrote to the Prime Minister, warning these cuts have knocked investor confidence in the low-carbon sector and calling for him to deliver policies that will restore investor certainty.

The letter, also signed by Vodafone, Kingfisher and Thames Water, argued recent moves to scale back support were increasing investment risks for businesses. 

"Regular changes to environment policy undermine confidence in investment in infrastructure of all kinds and impact on the UK's ability to continue competing in the rapidly growing low carbon sector," the letter warned.

Speeches from world leaders, including French President Francois Hollande, US President Barack Obama, and Chinese President XI Jinping, will dominate the day's proceedings. But away from the speeches to the main conference hall leaders will carry out a series of bilateral and multilateral talks in an attempt to overcome some of the stumbling blocks that remain towards an agreement being finalised.  

The speeches from world leaders follow the opening keynote address of the day from Prince Charles, who urged ministers and diplomats to recognise their responsibility to younger generations.

"I urge you to consider the needs of the youngest generation because none of us has the right to assume that for our today they should give up the rights of those tomorrow," he said, adding that "of all the threats on the planet today, none is greater than climate change. The planet can survive climate change, but the human race cannot".

He also said it was "absurd" that the world already has the money, tools and knowledge to tackle climate change, but has not yet delivered the will and the legal framework to do so. And he reiterated a call for fossil fuel subsidies to be diverted to fund sustainable development.

"If the planet were a patient we would have treated her long ago. You have the power to put her on life support," he told delegates.

Meanwhile, Labour Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary Lisa Nandy, has called for leaders to deliver "a carbon neutral economy within a generation".

"World leaders arriving in Paris today must grasp the opportunity to secure, for the first time, a truly international climate agreement," she said in an emailed statement. "While it is clear that the deal being negotiated will not yet be sufficient to prevent dangerous levels of temperature rise, the Summit should establish a clear pathway to build a carbon neutral economy within a generation. Ultimately this will be the key test of whether the Paris Summit succeeds."

This article is part of BusinessGreen's Road to Paris hub, hosted in association with PwC.

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