Today, in a post Kyoto Protocol period, the world faces the same challenge as back in 1997 – We are again facing the need to reach an international agreement to set the scene for effective action against climate change. There is however a considerable difference between today and 1997 – climate discussion has been elevated to a different level, where it has become a great concern of the majority of governments, corporations, NGOs and citizens.
Governments and climate change
Despite many disbelievers, governments have become more concerned. The emotional speech of the Philippines Delegate at the opening of COP-19 demonstrates the effects climate change could have on those most vulnerable countries. The fact that to date 25 countries, representing almost all continents have already submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to a new Climate Change Agreement is also a good step towards reaching an agreement. In November 2014, the US and China agreed to cap and reduce emissions, and to work together to forge an international climate agreement in 2015 – yet another major step forward. Last but not least, the EU agreed on a binding target of at least a 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990. Clearly, governments are concerned.
What is the role of business?
Now, let’s turn to the businesses. Have they become more concerned about climate change? I do believe so. At the end of July 2015, the White House launched the American Business Act on Climate Change. Under this scheme, each participating company has announced new pledges to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and increase low-carbon investments, deploy clean energy and take actions to build a more sustainable business. As part of the American Business Act, Alcoa pledged 50% less GHG emissions in the US by 2025 (in comparison to 2005 levels), while Coca-Cola has pledged to reduce carbon footprint by 25% by 2020. Other companies, such as Apple, Golden Sachs, Google and Microsoft have pledged to use 100% renewable energy.
Furthermore, the statistics about the investments in clean energy and low carbon development speak for themselves. Out of the $359 billion invested in 2012, 62% came from private investments ($224 billion) versus 38% ($135 billion) from public investments.
Having business on board is therefore key, both in terms of changing corporate behaviour as well as in terms of securing future investments in low carbon economy.
You, me… us, the citizens
According to a Yale-led survey of 119 countries, a staggering 40% of the globe’s population has never heard of climate change, or its effects. This rises to more than 65% in some developing countries, like Egypt, Bangladesh, and India, according to Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Interestingly, the research showed that in the U.S. views on climate change were strongly linked to their politics.
Especially in developed countries, the awareness of climate change is high. For instance, in September 2014, an estimated 400,000 people marched through midtown Manhattan as part of the People’s Climate March. With more than a million of activists around the globe, the role of civil society pressuring governments, pushing for new laws, policies or strategies on climate change is increasing. “Many of even the world’s poorest countries now have active civil society coalitions that work on climate change, and they are increasingly influential,” according to Dr Hannah Reid of IIED, an editor of a report Southern voices on climate policy choices: civil society advocacy on climate change. Civil society is becoming better organised, cooperates more with governments and is better trained in communicating with the media.
With 4,416 cities in the world with a population of over 150,000, cities are becoming an important voice in the climate change discussion. There are several initiatives aimed at mayors which particularly tackle climate change: the World Mayors Council on Climate Change, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, Mayors Adapt and many others. At the end of July 2015, dozens of environmentally friendly mayors met with Pope Francis in Vatican to commit to reducing global warming and helping the urban poor deal with its effects. It is perhaps one of the most important initiatives of Vatican, following the release of the landmark environment encyclical ahead of the climate negotiations in Paris.
As Nobel Laureate Al Gore stated during his last Davos speech, in order to reach an agreement in Paris in 2015 there needs to be political will across the globe, and this political will is a “renewable resource”. There is therefore an obvious need for this political will to be “backed” by the support from the industry, civil society and ordinary citizens.
With the Paris COP21 climate change negotiations in December 2015 approaching, we will see more voices present in the discussion. Whether we will be able to reach an agreement or not, climate change has become a concern for many. The feeling of concern for the future, as well as a more positive feeling of the fact that we are building a cleaner world, will be a major stimulus behind the negotiations.
12 August 2015
Ewa Abramiuk Lété is a public affairs and communications specialist who supports clients in the energy, transport and utilities sector. All above stated opinions are hers.
 status 11 August