Landing at the Paris airport on Tuesday morning, I could not help but become more somber as I thought about the events that transpired in the city a mere three weeks prior. However, the arrival of over 150 heads of state to participate in the opening of the COP 21 climate change talks gave the city a feeling of excitement that has translated to the climate conference itself. The positive support of China, U.S. implementation of a comprehensive carbon reduction plan, and the fact that over 150 nations have submitted their climate action plans (or INDCs, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions in U.N. jargon) have been critical changes in the climate scene since the disappointment in Copenhagen in 2009.
However, in the numerous years in which I have been attending these meetings and following the issue, perhaps nothing has made more of a difference than the shift in business community attitudes towards this effort. The prices of solar and wind energy technologies have fallen dramatically, energy storage R&D is making significant progress, and energy efficiency practices and policies have definitively demonstrated that economic growth can be separated from energy use. From the initial phases of rejecting climate science and opposing comprehensive efforts to restrict the use of fossil fuels (through "carbon pricing" for instance), the global business community is now more willing to give political leaders the opportunity to develop rational and achievable responses to this climate change challenge.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the participation of business in this COP meeting. At the opening session, former Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and President Obama set the goal of doubling clean technology R&D over the next five years with "Mission Innovation." Even more important is the advent of the new business organization called "We Mean Business," a coalition of organizations working with thousands of the world’s most influential business investors with the goal of kickstarting the low-carbon movement by setting targets, reporting emissions and scaling up low-carbon investment. Companies from as far field as Ikea, Nike, Unilever, Starbucks and HP have signed on to move the bar for corporate responsibility in the climate arena.
Historically the Environmental and Energy Study Institute has been a strong supporter of a comprehensive climate plan to be developed at an international level. That is still an essential goal. However, the increasing role that business is now playing in moving the bar forward is a new and potentially game-changing addition as we seek to implement carbon reduction strategies.
Chairman of the Board, EESI
President, Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA)