Let’s get down to business at the UN Climate Summit

Business has a key role to play in tackling global climate change. In the run-up to the UN climate summit on Tuesday Danielle Smith reviews promising new business initiatives, and introduces our report on the subject, but warns that still more action is
needed from governments and businesses to avoid runaway climate change.

Climate change has implications for food security and livelihoods, which will disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable people. It threatens to disrupt business operations and supply chains, particularly in the food and beverage sector. These disruptions will not just affect businesses but also the farmers and workers hidden within global supply chains.

By 2050 there could be an extra 50 million hungry people because of climate change. Progressive business leaders are already speaking out about the need for ambitious climate action. Now, more than ever, there is an urgent need for a loud, coherent business voice demanding urgent ambitious action to tackle climate change.

UN Climate Summit 2014 (New York)

Momentum and ambition is key to ensuring that a fair, ambitious global agreement on climate change is achieved in 2015.On 23rd September 2014, government, business and civil society leaders from across the world will meet in New York to discuss climate change at a summit hosted by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The summit is happening outside the official United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations, so it will not seek
to define a new global agreement on climate change. Instead, world leaders are invited to announce bold commitments, with the aim of generating momentum for climate action and raising political ambition in the run-up to UNFCCC negotiations in Lima later this year and in Paris in 2015. This momentum and ambition is key to ensuring that a fair, ambitious global agreement on climate change is achieved in 2015.

Worryingly, there are few signs that the Summit will deliver what’s needed. While 120 government leaders are confirmed to attend, including US President Barack Obama and leaders from Mexico and Peru to France and the Marshall Islands, they are expected to come with few, if any, firm new commitments.

As a result, there will be even greater focus and importance placed on private sector commitments and statements at the summit. There has never been a more critical opportunity and need for business leaders to demand the government policies and regulatory framework within which they can together galvanise the action needed to avoid runaway climate change.

New business commitments to tackle climate change

There are many positive indications that businesses are taking greater responsibility for addressing climate change. For example, in response to pressure from almost 240,000 supporters of Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign, General Mills and Kellogg have recently made significant new commitments for mitigating climate change. 

There are many positive indications that businesses are taking greater responsibility for addressing climate change.A number of private sector initiatives will be announced and profiled in NYC next week; some ambitious in scope and promise, others far less so. Oxfam has assessed the headline private and public-private initiatives that will be announced at the summit and published a briefing with the results. While these are welcome and will make some difference, private sector or market-led initiatives alone can never substitute for government action nor deliver the climate action demanded by the science and a growing number of people around the world. 

private sector forum organised by the United Nations Global Company (UNGC) will have a major focus on carbon pricing. The forum, which will involve over 300 government, business and civil society leaders, will showcase two carbon pricing initiatives.

A global carbon price has huge potential to cut emissions but this is dependent on there being a clear underlying regulatory framework, which supports an ambitious carbon pricing mechanism. Carbon pricing alone is not sufficient to drive the significant changes necessary to achieve an ambitious outcome in 2015. It is critical that businesses recognise and communicate that a combination of ambitious policies is needed to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.

Business demands government action on climate change

Another encouraging sign from the private sector is the growing voice of individual companies and business associations calling for urgent ambitious government action to tackle climate change. The day before the summit, 22nd September, will see the launch of an emerging coalition of business networks, We Mean Business.

…businesses should speak up and identify how climate change is already affecting their operations and how it will do so in the future.The We Mean Business coalition aims to amplify the voices of six business networks, which together represent over 500 companies. It has set out a vision for bold climate action and is calling for others to join its network of influential businesses. The coalition is unique in its potential to raise a collective business voice from a critical mass of companies that see the business case for action
on climate change. Progressive business leaders such as Paul Polman, Unilever’s CEO and Steve Howard, Ikea’s Chief Sustainability Officer, have been promoting this kind of coordinated private sector approach through public support for We Mean Business.

The summit presents a critical opportunity for businesses to clearly articulate their case for political commitment to a fair, ambitious, science-based global agreement on climate change. To demonstrate to political leaders why urgent action on climate change is important, businesses should speak up and identify how climate change is already affecting their operations and how it will do so in the future. Proactive business leaders can also play a key role in promoting climate action by seeking to influence businesses that are lagging behind to take
more progressive positions.

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Photo: Rain in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea where the wet season has become unpredictable. Credit: Jerry Galea / Oxfam

Author: Danielle Smith
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.