Industry takes lead role in creating low-carbon economy
Climate Change Business engagement is vital if the ambitious targets set by COP 22 are to be met.
At a recent roundtable discussion hosted by The World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD), leading innovators in carbon reduction technology discussed the practical implementation needed to put the revised framework into practice and achieve the goal set in the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to below 2C or 1.5C.
The discussion was hosted by Peter Bakker, President and Chief Executive Officer of WBCSD, who began by setting the bar in terms of the important role businesses have to play. “Business has a critical role to play as a source of investments and as a driver of technological development and innovation, not to mention as an engine for economic growth and employment,” said Mr. Bakker. “We must continue to work together to seize this opportunity to scale up the implementation of the Paris Agreement and accelerate the transition to the low-carbon economy. Many forward-thinking companies already realise this, and they are taking action.”
Setting the standard for carbon reducing innovations
Amongst those forward-thinking companies who took part in the discussions were Novozymes, the world’s largest industrial biotechnology company; DSM, a science-based company active in health, nutrition and materials and EDP, a major operator in the energy sector. All three agreed unanimously that transformation of industry was a key goal and supporting the work of scientists and innovators within their own sectors was essential to move things forward.
“At Novozymes, the sustainable development goals inspire us, help prioritise our activities, help open doors at high political levels and attract the right partners,” said Claus Stig Pedersen, head of corporate sustainability at Novozymes. The company, which develops enzyme and microbial technologies to enable higher agricultural yields, low-temperature washing and renewable fuel, have already set their own ambitious targets to enable a 100 million ton reduction in CO2 emissions in 2020.
A similar commitment was demonstrated by both DSM and EDP. “As a global business, we understand our responsibility to reduce carbon emissions and adapt our energy mix,” said Rob van Leen, chief innovation officer at DSM, who used COP22 to launch their Bright Minds Challenge, to encourage continued advancements in carbon-reducing innovations. “In the first round, we are focusing on renewable energy solutions that are ready to scale, in particular, solar and energy storage solutions. We think that encouraging young innovators to develop their ideas and have the chance to see them scaled up will have a dynamic effect on the sector.”
Clayton Middle School students visit The Children's Cabinet, a nonprofit providing services to young people in the Reno area. The Children's Cabinet is partially powered by solar energy, thanks to Black Rock Solar (Photo by BlackRockSolar).
Turning to contributions in their own sector, Rob van Leen said DSM is active in three main areas: reducing its own footprint , for example, by committing to sourcing 50% of their purchased electricity from renewable sources by 2025; enabling a lower carbon economy by, for example, in their advanced solar materials business, which is working on coatings, back sheets and films that significantly boost the yield of PV modules; and in advocating climate action -for example, taking a leading role in carbon pricing and using a €50/ton CO2 internal carbon price when reviewing large investment decisions. CEO Feike Sijbesma is also co-chair of the high-level assembly of the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition of the World Bank.
All three companies are also backing the Low Carbon Technology Partnerships Initiative, which provides a collaborative platform for private and public stakeholders to accelerate low-carbon technology development, and scale up the deployment of business solutions, to a level and speed that are consistent with the targets set.
As a representative of the energy industry, Antonio Castro, Corporate Sustainability officer at EDP, said it had taken the lead in transformation in the energy sector through activities in 14 countries. “We have developed green energy farms, including innovative solutions in floating off-shore wind power, and new market strategies. Many companies to which we supply are now much more interested in low-carbon alternatives, as they understand it can improve the long-term sustainability of their businesses,” he said.
The challenge of putting innovation into practice
However, there comes a point where innovations need to migrate off the drawing board and start to bring change – a point of which Mr Bakker is acutely aware. “Of course realising the SDGs by no means will be easy,” he said. “The goals represent an ambitious agenda which in many cases will require complete systems overhaul.”
Such a change takes commitment on an individual business level, but industry wide regulations and greater collaboration were highlighted as key drivers by many of those at the discussions. “In some of these countries, we need to remove the regulatory barriers to changing to low-carbon alternatives,” commented Mr Castro.
His words were echoed by representatives from both Novozymes and DSM. All three companies, through the Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative, are looking to influence policy makers who can light the torch for future change. “We are aiming to help policy makers through the Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative and this has great potential in future to act as a catalyst for further changes,” commented Mr Pedersen.
Rising incomes double motor vehicle fleets every 5 - 7 years and leads to severe congestion and pollution in cities like Kuala Lumpur (Photo by Roland Haas).
Inclusivity is vital to progress
Alongside their work with businesses, the roundtable discussion also highlighted the importance of keeping climate change in the public eye and ensuring that the transition to the low-carbon economy is inclusive.
Climate change is so fundamental to all our futures that truly long-term sustainable change requires a complete cultural shift in the way nations think about consuming energy and resources, and about the impact this has on people and communities. Whilst policy makers can assert a certain degree of influence from one direction, business also has a responsibility to ensure their employees and communities are prepared to meet the opportunities of the low-carbon world. For many businesses, this means re-training, re-skilling and redeployment in order to safely manage the transition for their workers.
“This is an area which hasn’t been discussed enough, and more resources need to be devoted to this,” commented Mr Pedersen. “Individual governments and the UN also need to play a part in ensuring there is a high degree of inclusion.”
All three companies agreed that, as governments put legislation in place to encourage further decarbonisation, global industries will be the key players in the drive to cut CO2 emissions and grow a low-carbon economy.The SDGs and COP22 have given companies a lot to digest, which is why organizations like WBCSD are so vital to facilitate collaboration, development and information-sharing amongst the leading companies that are are already delivering solutions on the ground .
There is definitely a long way to go, but if the passion and commitment at the roundtable is anything to go by, business is in a stronger position than ever.
“We are entering an era where responsible business is the new normal, and the private sector is identifying business opportunities from the global sustainability agenda,” said Mr Pedersen. “Business is no longer the problem; it is part of the solution.”
WBCSD is a global, CEO-led organization of over 200 leading businesses working together to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world. We help make our member companies more successful and sustainable by focusing on the maximum positive impact for shareholders, the environment and societies.
Our member companies come from all business sectors and all major economies, representing a combined revenue of more than $8.5 trillion and 19 million employees. Our global network of almost 70 national business councils gives our members unparalleled reach across the globe. WBCSD is uniquely positioned to work with member companies along and across value chains to deliver impactful business solutions to the most challenging sustainability issues.
Together, we are the leading voice of business for sustainability: united by our vision of a world where more than 9 billion people are all living well and within the boundaries of our planet, by 2050.