The Big Idea: UN Climate Talks: Why the Private Sector Needs to Be Involved Now

By Ann Condon and Norine Kennedy

un_headquarters_lo-resThomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and it looks like work.” For the United Nations climate change deliberations driving toward a global agreement in Paris this December, we would offer a variation on Edison’s observation. In this context, opportunity looks like a business person, ready to roll up their sleeves, invest in innovation, find new markets and become more competitive. USCIB wants to make sure the negotiators do not miss that opportunity.

And it goes beyond an opportunity. In our view, engagement with the private sector is imperative from both an economic and environmental standpoint. We need to manage and address the risks of climate change, and doing so requires engaging all countries and societal partners. And this must happen cost-effectively, with job creation and shared prosperity, stimulating economic growth and development.

Can emissions reductions and economic growth really go hand in hand? The answer is an emphatic “Yes!” Moreover, we now have clear evidence that this is underway. In March, the International Energy Agency announced that the world had successfully decoupled economic activity from greenhouse gas emissions, with global GDP increasing by 3.3 percent in 2014, while emissions decreased. This was the first time in over 40 years that observed emissions declined without an economic downturn.

USCIB member companies have made important contributions to inform the discussions, with the goal of influencing policy and market outcomes, meeting societal expectations and, in the process, finding new opportunities and new markets.

The business community has a clear stake in being engaged in the UN negotiation process, to help policy makers understand the economic and business opportunities and consequences of their policy choices.

USCIB, which has been engaged in the process since negotiation of the original UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, is seeking to expand private-sector engagement throughout the course of 2015 and beyond the Paris summit to the period when national implementation begins.

To do this we are working through multiple channels:

  • Advocating directly to the U.S. government, both on specific elements of a global agreement and on the critical issue of the U.S. pledge (or INDC, for “intended nationally determined contribution”).
  • Working closely with our partners in the International Chamber of Commerce; which serves as the business focal point for the UN negotiations and is playing an increasingly important role as a champion of sensible policies.
  • Engaging with multiple organizations on the interplay between the UN climate talks and other initiatives such as the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Forging stronger links between the business communities of the major emitting countries through the Major Economies Business Forum.

So how do USCIB member companies see a feasible and durable approach to climate, one that sets the stage to address these joint economic and environmental imperatives?

First, we want governments to provide a clear framework for international action on the many dimensions of climate change – including energy access and modernization to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and resilience and adaptation; with all large economies making national pledges to measure, monitor and report their activities.

Second, negotiators must find a way to mobilize and deploy $100 billion annually that governments pledged for climate mitigation and adaptation. You simply can’t get to a number that big without catalyzing private investment, which responds best to market incentives. For USCIB, open markets and trade are vehicles that spread investment and technology cost effectively and profitably; anything that hampers markets will slow the pace of climate action and make it needlessly expensive for companies and for society.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Paris summit must map out practical ways to include the private sector as a partner in the success of a global climate agreement. USCIB is seeking a recognized consultative role for business in all aspects of climate policy – setting priorities, informing policy options, taking action. As USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson remarked at the most recent UN climate conference in Lima, Peru: “If a global agreement doesn’t work for and with business, it won’t work.”

It is apparent that this is an idea whose time has come: the French government has called upon the private sector to be part of a shared agenda for action in Paris, and has signaled the importance of ongoing dialogue with business as a priority.

The international community has laid out a broad vision of 2015 as a critical fulcrum, where we can reinvent and reinforce economic and environmental imperatives, using both in markets and policy. For USCIB and its members, expectations are high. We will do our utmost to make the case for what we know will work best – open markets and trade, innovation and the enabling conditions for private sector investment — to address climate change challenges and move the global economy forward.

Ann Condon is director for resource and environment strategies at GE and chair of USCIB’s Environment Committee. Norine Kennedy is USCIB’s vice president for energy, environment and strategic international engagement.

Staff Contact:   Norine Kennedy

VP, Strategic International Engagement, Energy and Environment
Tel: 212.703.5052

Norine Kennedy promotes U.S. business participation in international environmental policy and management initiatives, and works closely with industry, government and NGOs to promote sustainable development and green growth. She also spearheads USCIB’s strategic international engagement initiative, which seeks to advance meaningful business participation and regulatory diplomacy in inter-governmental organizations.
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