There are looming gaps between current international actions to reduce emissions. Will the new climate deal be successful by the end of 2015?
By Helle Bank Jorgensen, Special Advisor, United Nations Global Compact
"We have no time to wait and no need to wait to improve the quality of our lives." – Harry Verhaar, Head of Global Public & Government Affairs at Philips Lighting
While companies attending the Climate Summits at COP19 in Warsaw Poland seemed more than ready for a climate deal, the negotiations during the United Nations Climate Change Conference seemed more like no-go-tiations.
While it was heartening to see the commitment from businesses such as Phillips, Siemens, Dow, IKEA, Unilever, Coca Cola, Velux, and BMW, business was not at the negotiation table. In fact, it seemed as if the negotiators were more focused on saying ‘No’ than on reaching an agreement – and creating a better world.
Creating a Better World: A Complex Conversation
Now, I recognize that the issue is much more complex than this, however, it would be great to see the same level of urgency in climate change negotiations as we witnessed in the Iran Nuclear negotiations taking place in Geneva almost simultaneously last year.
We all know that the wrong use of nuclear energy can have unbearable consequences – but the same can be said about a world with climate catastrophes that—according to U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel—can significantly add to the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty and conflict as well as food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources and more severe natural disasters that “all place additional burdens on economies, society and institutions around the world” [The Globe and Mail, November 23, 2013].
Taking the Lead on Climate Change…
When the U.S. Defense along with global businesses including insurance companies are taking the lead on climate change it should be a clear signal to act now. It is not only in the climate debate that companies are taking the lead. They are also leading the work in defining the Post 2015 Development Goals because they realize that they can’t succeed in a society that fails – and on a smaller scale, they need access to materials for their products – and their supply chains are threatened by the rapidly changing climate.
These companies are embedding sustainable thinking into their business operations and their full value chain – from suppliers to customers. They are pushing hard for a “Go” to a legally binding global agreement on curbing climate emissions to be made in Paris in December 2015. The same year and place where the final iteration of the Post 2015 Development Goals will take place with large input from these businesses.
But it is not enough to be among these ‘architects of a better world’ – businesses need to execute and show that it is possible to be sustainable by reporting on their achievements. We need numerous examples from the private sector to showcase the narrative of what this ‘better world’ could look like, through reporting as well as their advertisements.
…with Better Reporting…
Leading companies are already reporting on their commitments and actions – and some are reporting on the bigger picture. A combination of the Post2015 goals and the climate change goals could provide a good framework for reporting.
Companies must also begin ensuring that their advertising and lobbying agendas are aligned with their climate change goals to show consumers and negotiators that they are truly committed to creating this better world.
…And Connecting the Dots
Another major step that companies would be prudent to take is linking their externalities with their financial bottom line. Several leading companies such as Walmart, Microsoft, Google, Walt Disney, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Delta, Wells Fargo, General Electric, and Excel Energy have begun to do so by putting an internal price on carbon.
This is significant but not enough. We need more widespread commitment and greater advertising – through their sustainability and integrated reports as well as in the media – so that all stakeholders can see this alignment, begin to connect the pieces and understand which companies are playing the market versus doing the work.
Business models of the future will include climate change preparedness. If leading brands can sit up, involve their supply chain and show consumers firsthand how their products help create a better world, we might all be enjoying Paris’ beautiful sights in 2015 instead of sitting in dark rooms negotiating about our future.
About the Author:
Helle Bank Jorgensen has worked with leading companies and organizations within sustainability and climate change for 25 years. She is now running B. Accountability, an agile consultancy, while working as a Special Advisor to United Nations Global Compact, an associated director of Six Degree People and a Partner for World Climate Summit. Formerly, she served at PricewaterhouseCoopers, including 11 years as a Partner in Denmark and leading the US Sustainability and Climate Change Practices. Originally a business lawyer, Helle graduated with a Master of Science in business administration and auditing in 1994, when she also became an EMS consultant. She qualified as a state Authorized Public Accountant (CA/CPA) in Denmark in 1997.
Helle was the creator of the world’s first green account, assisted in creation of the world’s first integrated report and is working on Natural Capital Accounting. Further, she is the principle organizer for NVIR, the CEO/Investor-network for Business Ethics and Non-Financial Reporting.