Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past

We all saw it coming: the outcome of the United Nations Climate Change Negotiations (UNFCCC), held in Durban in 2011, promised to be an extremely fragile one. The somewhat unrealistic idea behind it was to deliver more than the combined efforts of Kyoto, Copenhagen and Cancun, could produce.

As far as the United Nations (UN) was concerned, its resolutions were equally applicable to all countries; developed and developing alike.

Today we are half-way down the road from the so-called 2015 Agreement and players have laid down their first stakes. While the involved parties are currently enthusiastically re-negotiating their agreements, it is safe to say that the results of the Durban ambition are largely insufficient. And this time the UN (in its Climate GAP-report) and the World Bank in its recent report are in agreement: even if countries should implement the 2015-guidelines, our globe might be on track for a bumpy ride that could badly rattle several vital human support systems. This conclusion already acts as the trigger for a series of new rounds of negotiations around the globe.

These new negotiations are quite different from previous efforts, depending on where the wind blows. The European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels (EESC) frankly admitted in its public hearing that discussions on climate change are very fragmented; that the negotiations framework of Kyoto is outdated, and that the coordination amongst 27 countries is sadly lacking – even at EU level.

Europe no longer seems to be at the centre of these global climate change discussions. New key players such as the US and China are aligning themselves and will probably determine the way things develop on their own. And they are well on their way to do that. The U.S.-China Working Group on Climate Change recently developed five strong new initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in their respective countries. Let’s see how this develops after their first evaluation deadline in October…

If the EU regards international alignment on climate change as one issue, financing it is another one altogether. Will the EU Commission continue to foot Europe’s bill to fund the framework of the agreements, or will they leave it to the private sector to pick up the tab? Or will it now pass the buck to the corporate sector that has always been blocked from any EU discussions, and that already has to deal with enough economic challenges of its own?

In any case, it looks as if there is a change in strategy. In the period March to June of this year the European Union started up a planned consultative process with a variety of stakeholders on how to approach these many climate change issues together. This included for the first time also the business sector. The results of this survey can soon be viewed on their website but it is already clear that, during this consultation phase, the issue of funding of related green initiatives has, however, still received scant attention and that’s a shame.

As we all know, communication and transparency have always been sensitive issues on the EU’s credibility scorecard. With next year’s EU Parliamentary elections clearly as its driving force, the EU now wants to tackle climate change from bottom up, knowing very well that without the help of civil society, no solution is likely to come from within the EU member states that form the Union.


From UNEP’s point of view, climate change is part of their much broader Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At a recent conference on the Future of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UNEP-officials explain that for them environmental issues must always be linked to economic goals to ensure their sustainability and that all activities in this process should be measurable and managed along business principles. A refreshing idea, indeed. On this matter they are in agreement with recently appointed Gina McCarthy as the new US Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who remarked: ‘we’ve got it all wrong; climate change is all about economics, not about the environment’.

And this is another major challenge: how realistic is it for UN negotiators to also take the economic situation into account (including the financial policies, the debt & trade issues, etc.) of North and South; of both developed and developing countries; and all of this in one global framework?

Much as is the case in the diplomatic approach to the Syrian crisis, this immediately raises the question: does the UN and UNEP have the mandate, the impact and the leverage to accomplish this ambition and, on top of that, is UNEP equipped for such a global approach right now?

However, there is progress, albeit slow. This is mainly due to the incredibly complex structures of the UN and UNEP and of the many stakeholders they have to deal with who all have their own agendas. Today both the EU and the UN are doing their best to involve as many stakeholders as possible in what they refer to as this environmental change process. They know that we all need to make another important paradigm shift: it must be understood that environmental change can also lead to huge opportunities for business.

A few months ago UNEP published its new and unique GEO-5 for Business report which not only outlines current and future impacts of environmental trends but also explains that these trends will trigger technological innovation which, in turn, will translate into new opportunities for business and consumers. The GEO-5 for Business report recommends the use of its content as a framework within which readers can conduct their own company-specific analyses. And suggests that the corporate world should harness its capabilities to generate real, continuous and transformative solutions arising from a rapidly changing world.

The report outlines the specific risks of climate changes to the construction, chemicals, mining, food, and other industries and how businesses can create long-term competitive advantages by addressing these issues pro-actively. Analysis shows that in the US alone, electricity demand to feed electric vehicles is set to increase by more than 1700% by the end of this decade. Around 60% of infrastructure needed to meet the world’s urban population’s needs by 2050, has not been built yet. Infrastructure that needs to be developed, greener urban construction, while meeting green building standards, are booming everywhere. Water scarcity, particularly for sectors such as tourism, chemicals and other water intensive sectors, will have to compete with local communities and other water users. As a result cheaper alternatives to water usage or alternatives to water purification are urgently required; posing huge challenges to innovators in business. The challenges and opportunities are endless.

GEO-5 for Business and the one-month old initiative to roll it out to the business sector worldwide (both in developed and emerging regions) through road shows and seminars, deserves high praise and may just prove, for the first time, that if organizations, governments, NGO’s, competitors, suppliers and customers all search for their own meanings and solutions, they will be strongly positioned for a prosperous future.

Let’s hope that everyone who really matters really cares…

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