Climate change: Getting down to business

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Businesses and governments have broken the 'catch 22' of who should act first on climate change, says UN climate chief

During the past fortnight China, Iceland, the Republic of Korea, Serbia, Singapore and New Zealand have formally submitted their climate action plans that will form part of the new, universal climate agreement to be inked in Paris this December.

To date, 46 countries have submitted their country commitments, creating a positive wave of ambition ahead of the upcoming negotiations. Many more will come on board in the coming weeks and months.

At the close of this year, we can be confident we will have that new agreement which needs to put the world on track to a low carbon economy by charting a defining and definitive course towards limiting a global temperature rise under 2 degrees Celcius this century.

The agreement also needs to spell out how developing countries will be supported in their climate ambitions not least through finance that is sufficient and sustainable over the long haul. My confidence would not be as high if it were not for the rising ambition and action of companies and investors.

The historical catch 22 around who should act first on climate change - governments or businesses - has finally been broken. What we are now witnessing is a "co-responding" effort from both the public and private sector, responding to the reality that green growth and a wider understanding of what is wealth, is the growth-engine of the future.

As the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Climate Change Convention, I welcome this development because neither nations nor the private sector can combat climate change or seize the opportunities from a low carbon economy alone.

The private sector in developed and developing countries must do their part to support a decisive, cooperative agreement in December - by incorporating climate action in their long-term strategies and their daily activities: thankfully, the will to act has never been stronger.

Whereas in the past, countries and businesses viewed climate action as a cost, today it is clear that investment in green technology and in the planet's 'natural infrastructure' such as forests and water supplies can boost the bottom line.

Meanwhile increasing numbers of consumers are recognising and demanding environmentally-friendly goods and services that in turn send signals to corporations as to where the future profits will be.

In the final months before the climate negotiations, we are seeing government and business interests aligning like never before. Governments, through decisive and bold action - such as the recent announcement by the leaders of the G7 countries to phase out the use of fossil fuels by the end of this century - are signalling that investment in green technology is a sure bet as the world transitions to a low-emission economy.

Similarly, companies that recognise that climate action makes good business sense are committing to invest in innovative technologies, which are transforming the energy market. Ikea's latest pledge to invest €1bn to act on climate change is just one example of how companies are providing the capital to facilitate a green energy revolution that is already well under way.

But perhaps most spectacularly of all - Solar Impulse - the only airplane able to fly day and night exclusively on solar power, is currently crossing the Pacific and demonstrating that human ingenuity can make the impossible possible.

Ultimately, one of the most compelling ways that businesses can build the will for a climate agreement is by signing up to initiatives that are truly transformational in terms of putting us on a trajectory towards steeply declining emissions such that in the second half of the century everyone can live and breathe in a climate-neutral world.

This can mean setting a target for 100 per cent renewable energy use, committing to include climate change information in financial reports, or calling for a price on carbon - as six major European oil and gas companies did last month.

The science is well known: current patterns of human activity, often in the name of economic progress, are causing dangerous changes to our climate. It is time to truly decouple growth from pollution, and poverty from environmental degradation.

We are counting on the business community to acknowledge their role in this new trend toward sustainability, seize the opportunity at hand and to work with their countries and their communities as we seek to mitigate the effects of climate change; build more resilient societies and help move every man, woman and child into a more healthy and prosperous future.

Now that the deadlock on climate action has been broken, we need companies to show us that they mean business now and for the years and decades to come.

Christiana Figueres is executive secretary of the UNFCCC

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

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