France’s offer to business and regions to provide solutions could be a game changer, but won’t fill emission gap
By Ed King
Leading businesses and cities are set to have a greater say in how a global climate change pact will work than ever before.
For years mayors and chief executives have been kept away from the heart of UN talks, officials nervous of further complicating negotiations involving nearly 200 countries.
But the organisers of this year’s Paris climate summit, where an historic UN deal to limit greenhouse gas emissions is due to be signed off in December, are opening the doors to non-state parties.
The French government says its Agenda of Solutions package will be the fourth pillar of a global deal, alongside finance, adaptation plans and national carbon cutting strategies.
It’s an area where initiatives from business, regional governments and cities that are complementary to government pledges can be registered with the UN.
Janoz Pastor, assistant secretary-general on climate change, told a press conference in New York on Tuesday he feels this will be one of the “key outcomes” from the meet.
One of the Agenda’s architects is Pascal Canfin, now with the World Resources Institute, who was France’s minister for development from 2012-2014.
“It’s very relevant for Paris to have a broader scope than the [UN] agreement,” he tells RTCC, pointing out that national pledges as they stand are way off limiting dangerous warming.
This extra set of commitments could add much-needed gloss to the 2015 deal, evidence that Paris is the start of a cross-sectoral carbon cutting push.
Canfin’s vision is a new space for business and regional authorities that could convey the message that climate change represents an opportunity participants, rather than extra regulations.
“We need to shift the narrative. If we are about sharing a burden then we will fail because the capacity of 195 countries to share a burden in a nice agreement is close to zero.
“What we need to share is opportunities. Prosperity, development. It’s positive not negative.”
The signs are the concept may be still under review. The web page explaining how it would work has been removed (see below) while emails, calls and tweets to officials have been left unanswered.
But Canfin cites a focus on climate risk by S&P in its credit ratings as an example of what could be included in this area.
“That’s the kind of example that is fully part of the solutions agenda that cannot be part of any UN agreement, so it’s outside the scope but hugely important,” he says.
“For the first time all chief financial officers will have to deal with climate change because they will have to answer S&P questions and follow the analysis.”
Another initiative he says could be included is the recent move by the G20 to explore the risks posed by fossil fuel investments to the financial sector.
“That kind of thing was not happening before Copenhagen,” he says, raising the spectre of 2009 and the last time the UN tried to solve global warming.
What this pillar can’t do is make up for a shoddy global agreement or offer painless emission cuts, warns Nick Mabey from the E3G thinktank.
“The concept of what the solutions agenda has changed,” he says. “There was a feeling this could make up for not having a strong deal which people realise is the wrong approach on so many levels.
“There’s now a clearer understanding on showing momentum and ownership among climate process and providing immediate momentum post Paris.”
It’s a view echoed by Sandrine Dixson-Decleve from the Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders Group, which includes BT, Shell and Philips.
“There needs to be a longer term post Paris plan. Paris is just a step – but in addition it has to be coupled with very clear signals from countries with their INDCs [national climate plans],” she says.
Last September’s climate summit in New York, hosted by Ban Ki-moon, set a precedent for offering cities and business a space for public pledges.
There eight “action areas” were identified, including finance, transport, forests, industry and cities.
It witnessed the launch of the Compact of Mayors, which has a potential reach of 2000 cities, while 400 companies from 60 countries called for a global carbon price and 36 governments, 36 regional bodies and 52 companies pledged to slow deforestation.
There was even the curious sight of the head of national oil giant Saudi Aramco warning climate change was a “era defining objective” and adding his support to decarbonisation efforts.
Many commitments that are not specific greenhouse gas reductions are hard to measure, but the signal and momentum they can offer are valuable, argue some analysts.
“These business pledges aren’t truly additional to national action and many will want to scrutinise the progress towards them to ensure that business delivers on its promises,” says Jonathan Grant from consultants PwC.
“However, what’s more important is the message they send to governments – that an ambitious deal is vital and achievable.”
The scope for business involvement is likely to become clearer at a specially convened two-day conference during Paris climate week later this month.
At that meeting France foreign minister Laurent Fabius and UN climate chief Christiana Figueres will rub shoulders with the likes of former BP boss Tony Hayward, now head of mining giant Glencore-Xstrata, and Eldar Saetre, Statoil chief executive.
Whether those two fossil fuel magnates will suddenly declare their commitment to global decarbonisation is questionable, but the new focus on business has generated interest in boardrooms, says Mark Kenber from the Climate Group.
While the UN is focused on top down emission reductions, businesses are in a prime position to offer the tools – be they renewables, carbon capture technology or electrifying transportation.
“If you look at the companies involved you have not just got the usual suspects but companies from all across the spectrum,” he says.
“Some are realising some that they can make money here, others are concerned that they could left behind. Now there’s both a push and pull to engage – I think it has generated a new dynamic.”
He argues the snowballing divestment campaign and pressure from investors are sending a message to the top that leaders need to back the outcomes of Paris.
“There’s a growing feeling that transition is unstoppable, there is a broad leadership group – and more activity is very good at highlighting those who are dragging their feet,” he says.
For Nick Mabey Paris represents the start of a “radical reshaping” of the way international diplomacy is conducted. No longer will it simply be between governments, he says.
What’s vital is that these commitments add to the overall story of what Paris has achieved and critically offer room for improvement.
And in a deal that’s likely to be driven by “bottom up” national actions, it’s essential to have the private sector and regional administrations singing the same tune.
There is still a debate over how that will pan out he says, and what the mechanism to tie all these contributions together looks like.
“Paris should be the floor not the ceiling of ambition. It should offer more credibility that major sectors are moving faster than governments.”
Not everyone is feeling the positive vibes. Some campaigners are concerned about this role for multinationals at a UN conference.
Pascoe Sabido from the Corporate Europe Observatory, which tracks the power of lobbyists in Brussels and beyond, warns against greenwash.
“What worries me is often things that are represented as really good news are business as usual, such as the move towards ‘cleaner’ gas from coal, which will lock in 50 years of fossil fuels,” he says.
“This should be about reducing consumption. What I would like to see is movement towards a decentralised energy system but that’s a real challenge to the big utilities.
“Business looking in mirror is a good thing but I would not expect business to do anything but to look out for its shareholders.”
Dixson-Decleve says most businesses she speaks to want to be part of the solution, but cautions that they should not be relied upon as the sole pillar under a Paris pact.
“We need clarity from regulators – we need them to set the tone and put in place standards and policy. My worry is if we focus too much on this agenda we’ll forget about putting pressure on governments and their INDCs”.