Just days after Britain decided to leave Europe global business leaders gathered in London's Guildhall to call on governments to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement without delay, amid fears that progress has been railroaded by the Brexit vote.
Representatives from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the City of London urged businesses to build sustainability and low carbon economics into their investment decisions, at the annual Business and Climate Summit in London on June 27.
Global companies pledged to move faster on meeting the Paris climate goals by introducing new business models, technology solutions and forming fresh coalitions with public and private sector players.
However, the pledge to reduce emissions by 6 billion tonnes in fifteen years made by countries at the Paris COP21 is still a long way off the 42 billion tonnes required for an emissions reduction pathway that scientists believe will keep the global average temperature rise below 2ºC.
A new report containing targets for businesses to reduce their share of greenhouse gas emmisions.
The Business End of Climate Change study predicts that by 2030 business will reduce emissions by 3.7 billion metric tonnes of CO2 per year (60% of cuts pledged by countries in Paris) through participation in five key initiatives.
This could rise to 10 billion metric tonnes per year (roughly the size of China’s current emissions output), if all relevant companies that can join the initiatives were to sign up.
The initiatives include: RE100, a group that focuses on helping companies move to a 100% renewable electricity supply; EP100, aimed at doubling energy productivity; Science Based Targets, who provide technical support to companies; Zero De-forestation, committed to removing commodity-driven deforestation from supply chains; and LCTPi, who focus on deploying low carbon technologies.
“The infrastructure we build over the next four years will determine the fate of human kind. We have the goal, how quickly can we get there,” said Christiana Figueres, in one of her final official speeches as UN Executive Secretary before stepping down in July.
An estimated US$90 trillion needs to be invested globally in cities, land use and energy infrastructure by 2030 to help secure a low carbon, climate resilient economy, according to the New Climate Economy.
Attendees spoke of an urgent need to mobilise private capital for green financing.
Speakers said that the plummeting price of renewables and emergence of new business models within the "shared economy" mean companies can now expand their clean energy services faster and attract institutional investors.
Prices for solar PV modules and wind turbines have fallen roughly 80% and 30-40%, respectively, in the last seven years, says research from IRENA.
Ségolène Royal, French minister of the environment and president of COP21, called for Europe to set a floor price for carbon by next year and highlighted the work of the Carbon Leadership Coalition (a group of 96 companies who aim to double the share of emissions currently cover by the pricing mechanism by 2020).
It is accepted that the success of the low carbon transition will heavily depend on new technology.
“Distributed power grids are combining with new battery energy storage units for application in rural villages to urban utilities," said Preben Munch, director of Eco Hz, a Norwegian renewable energy company.
"The circular economy is catching on, as are smart grids and the Internet of Things. It has taken time for business to come firmly on board but now we see leading CEOs advocating for business sustainability as much as they do about finance and markets,” he added.
The summit came just days after the British public voted to leave Europe, plunging financial markets into uncertainty and causing the pound to crash to a 30-year low overnight.
Divisions within Europe, political uncertainly in the US and China’s ongoing economic transition all threaten to destabilise multilateral efforts to fight climate change.
Figueres admitted the EU would need to “recalibrate” its Paris commitments as a result of the UK’s departure from Europe.
“Should Article 50 be triggered, the EU will need to look at its INDC and maybe look at recalibrating its effort sharing. There will adjustments, and there will be uncertainly and volatility for about two years,” she said.
Sir Roger Gifford, chairman of the City of London’s Green Finance Initiative assured that London and the UK’s commitment to a wider low carbon transition is “undimmed”, and called for the continued support of China and India, in particular.
The new green economy
Attendees spoke of those “left behind”, parts of society excluded from the benefits of economic growth and new opportunities, who are acting out their frustrations across Western democracies.
Rachel Kyte, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) and special representative of the UN Secretary-General, said the green economy could provide an alternative version of capitalism that would address the West's current socio-economic problems by creating jobs and new industries.
“In the West, we have not fully begun to realise the true cost of our own adaptation. We have to really think through what it means to leave no one behind domestically. We have been flip-flopping with regulation for green investment which is what will create the jobs,” she said.