This post is part of our year-end “year in review” sustainable business writing contest. We’ve asked 3p readers to submit their own thoughts about the state of sustainable business in 2010. More information about the contest is available here. All submitted articles will be available on this page. Voting will happen in January!
Boyd Cohen, CEO CO2 IMPACT
2010 could not have started off with more of a downer for those of us working in the climate change arena. Hopenhagen turned into Jokenhagen as the leaders of the world (largely driven by the continued U.S. resistance to get on board) failed to get even close to a fair, binding and ambitious treaty.
For a founder of a carbon project development company, the lack of results in Cancun couldn’t have come at a worse time. The lack of confidence in the Post 2012 carbon markets caused investors and offset buyers to retreat throughout most of 2010.
However all was not lost for the millions of us in the world who realize that climate capitalism will play an instrumental role in the transition to a low-carbon economy and who decided to go about proving it despite the weak regulatory environment. While many argue, and I agree, that capitalism has been a major driver of global warming, I also believe that enlightened capitalism focused on solving climate change at a profit, will be perhaps the most important tool to move the lever fast enough to thwart the worst of the climate crisis.
Here is a list of the my top 10 climate capitalism stories coming out this calendar year that give me hope, counting down from #10 to #1.
#10 Walmart becoming the Poster Child for Climate Capitalism?
I know I will make some enemies with the far left on this one however I am getting used to this with my recent public criticism of President Evo Morales. Fellow sustainable business advocate Adam Werbach also took his share of crap for leaving the Sierra Club to “work with the enemy.” Walmart has been making major moves in the sustainability arena and particularly with climate change. While many have expressed concerns with their social responsibility and even their monopolistic tendencies, I believe their announcement this year to move into organics and supporting local farmers will pay big global climate dividends while actually helping to accelerate the growth of the organics movement around the globe.
#9 Better Place comes to North America
Many of you may have not heard of Better Place but you should. In January of this year, Better Place announced a $350 million investment led by HSBC, leading them to a $1 billion+ valuation. Better Place is a game changer trying to help develop national and regional infrastructure to support the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. In October, Better Place announced an initiative designed to support the electrification of San Francisco’s taxi fleet. Along with other announced North American efforts in Hawaii and Ontario, Better Place is poised to lead us away from our “addition to oil.”
#8 Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf
In December, GM and Nissan began rolling out their latest electric vehicle models. After GM’s last success/disaster with the EV-1 (if you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend renting Who Killed the Electric Car), GM appears to have found a winner with the Volt. Unlike the Nissan Leaf, the Volt has a range extender in case you run out of battery charge. GM even found a way to recycle the toxic booms left from BP’s oil spill in the Gulf.
#7 & #6 The Emergence of Negative Emission BICCS Models + NAMA’s
This might be too carbon geek speak for many, but biofuel + carbon capture and storage (BICCS) resulting in “negative emission” solutions emerged toward the end of this year as a potential hot (or should I say cool) business opportunity. Imagine helping a Colombian brick-maker switch from using coal in their kilns to sustainable harvested wood. Not only are you succeeding in switching them from a dirty fuel source to a clean one, but then you go the extra mile and help them sequester the CO2 resulting from burning the wood.
Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) are all the rage in the carbon world as an alternative or supplement to the carbon markets. Rather than wait for the long and slow process of singular carbon projects, NAMAs allow countries, usually at a sectoral level (e.g. coal mines), to address a range of public (e.g. carbon taxes, incentives) and market mechanisms to more rapidly reduce emissions at a country level. Stay tuned to both these trends in 2011.
#5 Cancun Can
The UN, Mexico and other organizers did a heck of a job convincing all of us in the carbon market that there would be no progress whatsoever in Cancun. With such low expectations, and a remarkably well-managed event of which I had the pleasure to attend, Cancun was actually a success on a number of levels. Leaving out unruly Bolivia, there was actually consensus on a number of important topics including the $100 billion green fund for low carbon technology transfer, further commitment to forestry projects, and even a way to expedite carbon projects through the unwieldy UN Executive Board. The relative success in Cancun seems to have already begun to open the purse strings as my company has since received three term sheets to buy offsets from projects we have in development in Colombia and Brazil.
#4 World Climate Summit
Also taking place at COP16 in Cancun this year was the inaugural World Climate Summit. Headlined by billionaires Richard Branson and Ted Turner, this event brought business leaders and policy makers together to show how businesses, large and small, are already paving the way to a low-carbon future, and for a profit. Organizers intend to host more events throughout 2011 as well as the second annual summit in Durban for COP17.
#3 Institutional Investors Group representing $15 trillion calls for climate action
One of the most impressive and definitive moments in the climate capitalism movement was the outreach done by the Institutional Investors Group leading up to Cancun, demanding climate action at the multi-lateral level. The collective value of the IIG’s portfolios exceeds $15 trillion. At times money indeed talks.
#2 World Mayors step in where National Governments failed in Copenhagen
With such doom and gloom at the international policy level, and little hope at the time of progress in Cancun, 138 mayors met in Mexico to flex their muscle on the issue. The mayors agreed to the Mexico City Pact voluntarily committing their cities to emissions reductions and to transparently report those reductions in order to engage their citizens. While mayors control fewer dollars, the majority of the world’s population now lives in cities, and mayors can be at the forefront of the shift to low-carbon solutions through building codes, transportation policy and energy mix.
#1 Proposition 23 Fails, Paving way for U.S. Carbon Market
Not only were most of the North American carbon market participants eagerly awaiting the outcome of Proposition 23, but also the global carbon market was waiting with baited breath the outcome of Proposition 23. Proposition 23, backed by Texas oil money, sought to sideline California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32). AB 32 was designed to eventually create a market-based cap and trade in California to regulate the emissions of large emitters. Luckily for us climate capitalists around the globe, Proposition 23 was soundly defeated and AB 32 is now set to take hold beginning in 2012.
Climate capitalism is alive and well in the U.S. and abroad. Despite the slow pace of public policy, especially at the federal level, 2010 saw the emergence of city, state and regional action. Perhaps equally if not more important, we are beginning to witness companies of all sizes recognize the business opportunity for shifting to a low carbon economy. Whether that be from energy savings resulting from energy efficiency initiatives, or from the sale of new low-carbon products and services, early adopters are profiting already from climate capitalism. Given the slowly improving economy and the emergence of supportive public policies at all levels of government, 2011 is poised to be the breakout year for climate capitalists.