The Business of COP-21

On the night of December 11, 2015, during the final drafting of the COP21 climate change agreement in Paris, France, I sat down and tried to capture my thoughts from Hall No. 6 at Le Bourget, where the world had descended in an attempt to save the planet from slipping in to an irreversible destructive mode due to climate change.

After a short brief meeting at 9:00 pm, the meeting was adjourned to 11:00 pm, giving me time to reflect on the proceedings with just one day remaining in the two week event that is the focus of the world. The first image that flashed my mindscape is global business community and world leaders taking center stage on day one of COP21 (November 30, 2015) forming an energy coalition. The business community also included Mr. Ratan Tata and Mr. Mukesh Ambani from India. This initiative gives me a belief that the business community is here to stay and will carry on with their efforts to mitigate climate change in their respective businesses and play a key role in mitigating global emissions in general – regardless of what transpired in Paris! The thought is comforting to me and to many others whose collective consciousness I follow on social media and I hope it resonates with you as well.

Why is the energy coalition important? What’s the big deal?

While it is customary to have the government and the policy makers lead the climate negotiations at COP, this edition of COP began with a new norm with leading businessmen and women taking centre stage along with the government. Coalition of businessmen and governments forged a new relationship to structure landmark new energy initiative-”mission innovation”.

Mission Innovation’s goal is to boost the collective annual spending on energy research to $20 billion, up from $10 billion. These twenty eight investors are worth an estimated US$350 billion! The fact that these investors have found it important to take a decisive action to mitigate climate change is a giant step that will galvanise action and create an ecosystem of clean energy companies.

Pursuit of climate change initiatives is typically viewed as a zero sum game sacrificing growth to achieve emissions control. Involvement of business world whose dna is typically growth focused puts to rest the growth vs climate debate. And, that is a really big deal in my view and gives a signal that growth is not climate averse.

Industry Initiatives

Sectors of industries have vowed to decarbonize their business notably the aviation sector. The Carbon War Room is an example of where the aviation and shipping industries have come together to find solutions to create a low carbon economy.

Why is business community engagement so exciting? 

A question that can be answered with reams of data and economic models or with simple logic. Primary sources of emissions are business driven and when biggest business houses pledge allegiance to a carbon neutral growth this marks a tectonic shift that has the potential to propel larger sections of the society to emulate this initiative. Companies such as Tata Steel, who are world leaders in steel production a business which by very nature is highly emissions oriented, have shown the way that even such processes can achieve low emissions by process changes. Sectors such as real estate are now actively engaged in decarbonizing their business which will have a major impact on carbon footprint as over 50% of global emissions come from the built environment.

Technology holds the key for climate change

Climate Change has its solution in technology and business world is a vital cog in mainstreaming that technology. No climate change forum is without narratives that include solar,wind, biomass, geothermal and other such renewable technologies. Investments from business world drives these technologies and that is why mission innovation excites me as it will foster research in renewable energy breaking the efficiency and cost barriers creating a critical mass than can then be globally replicated.

The side event stars are the drivers of change…

The biggest drivers in climate change agenda has emerged from sections of society who do not have negotiation rights. Even at COP, events by these players are termed as side events but the players of these side events hold the key in this battle against climate change. In this edition of COP the side events have found their spot light be it civil society or business community.

A threat to survival often forges unthinkable alliances and the existential threat to the planet caused due to climate has found a common platform for business and government to collaborate and find ways to save the planet.

On my first day to COP21 site, I found veterans sporting T Shirts that said grandfather’s movement to fight climate change. Over the last week, I have found many at the COP venue drawn from various cross sections of the world all in pursuit of creating a sustainable world for the next generation.

Voices from outside COP are influencing decisions made at COP-period.

These side players now led by business world inspire me and give me hope as they create jobs, wealth and drive the economy and now will be doing all of this in a sustainable manner.

The path is not easy but the direction is right and gives me hope for a better future!

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This piece was Sivakumar Kuppuswamy, a student from the Masters of Climate Change program at the University of Waterloo. Siva is an eternal student who kicked a corner office to pursue a passion in studying climate change. He hopes to play a catalytic role in supporting sustainable business initiatives and is focused on decarbonizing business.

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