Figueres: National climate plans = “investment prospectuses”

UN climate chief urges businesses to look for opportunities in countries’ contributions to a global climate deal

Christiana Figueres (Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)

Christiana Figueres (Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)

By Megan Darby

The climate plans submitted by governments towards a global climate deal should be seen as “investment prospectuses” for business.

That was the line of UN climate chief Christiana Figueres ahead of a business and climate change conference in Paris next month.

To date, 34 countries have published their draft contributions to a climate agreement in the same city this December, which outline policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“These are more than a contribution to a global effort, they are also investment prospectuses,” said Figueres in a media briefing.

“While it is the responsibility of governments to set the direction of travel and that is very clearly lower carbon, it falls on business and sub-national governments to be the engines of change.

“What is very exciting about these two days coming up is businesses are not waiting for policy perfection – because that is a work in progress – but businesses are already acting.”

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The US, Russia, Switzerland, Norway and European Union’s 28 member states met the 31 March putative deadline. These are responsible for 80% of developed country emissions.

Mexico and Gabon were the first developing countries to put forward their plans.

Further tranches of submissions are expected in June and the autumn. The UN will assess in October how close the plans come to the agreed goal of limiting temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels.

Analysts have raised concerns that some of the plans – submitted or expected – are not ambitious enough.

Japan is expected to offer a weak target, having ramped up fossil fuel use since the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Australia is consulting on an emissions goal consistent with 3.6C of warming, a level scientists say will bring severe climate impacts.

Despite efforts to curb emissions at provincial level, Canada’s federal government refused to recognise the 31 March deadline for developed countries.

Russia surprised observers by meeting the deadline, but with heavily qualified goals. A 25-30% emissions cut from 1990 levels by 2030 “might be a long-term indicator,” subject to “the maximum possible account” of the absorbing capacity of the country’s vast forests, it said.

Identifying potential

Asked whether Russia’s vague ambition could be seen as an invitation to investors, Figueres clarified her remarks.

“The level of detail that is submitted in the INDC [intended nationally determined contribution] does not allow you to take any of those documents and run to the bank,” she said.

“What it does do is: each of those INDCs begins to identify the particular sectors in which there is mitigation potential.”

Companies will be able to see where investment is needed in clean energy, public transport or energy efficiency, she suggested.

Nigel Topping, CEO of We Mean Business, said the Business and Climate Summit on 20-21 May would define the “new normal” for responsible companies.

He cited zero deforestation pledges from consumer goods companies, 100% renewable energy goals by technology companies and moves by investors to cut their exposure to high carbon sectors.

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