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Business to Government: Do Something About Climate Change

Words by Leon Kaye

The COP21 climate talks in Paris are less than two weeks away. Will this United Nations-led conference result in a truly binding global agreement, or will this just be another week of pricey hotel stays with wining and dining that will offer little more than just platitudes and finger pointing? Indeed, more organizations are making noise about what many analysts believe will lead to a make-or-break moment for worldwide consensus on mitigating climate change. A recently released study reveals that the business community, long seen as resistant to any environmental policy, may be taking the potential threats of climate change more seriously than ever before.

A survey completed by the UN Global Compact (UNGC) and Accenture sheds new light on the evolving attitudes on climate change held by chief executive officers across the world and throughout various industries. Teams from both organizations conducted two surveys. First, CEOs of companies that participate in the UN Caring for Climate Business Forum were interviewed. In addition, executives from 750 companies, from over 150 countries and within 41 industries, were polled about their beliefs on how serious a threat climate change is and what the private sector can do about it.

The results reflect—and in fact, even amplify—the growing market trends we have seen here at Triple Pundit the past few years. More business leaders increasingly view climate change not just through the lens of a threat to their business, but as a real concern and an economic opportunity. Over 70 percent of respondents surveyed by Accenture and UNGC believe climate change policies can lead to tangible business opportunities, and 69 percent agree that investment in climate change-related goods and services can actually create a competitive advantage for their companies.

What is interesting about this survey is where the greatest sense of urgency lies. For example, the mining and metals industry executives surveyed all believe that climate change is “a significant and urgent priority.” However, only 35 percent of those same individuals surveyed think their sector is making a sufficient enough effort to limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius. A similar disconnect can be seen in the energy, chemicals and financial sectors. The only industries in which a majority of executives showed confidence that their sectors were making a difference in climate change were within communications and industrial engineering. Overall, while over 90 percent of business leaders felt climate change was an urgent priority for the private sector, only one-third of them believe actually progress is being made on this front.

As a result of all these interviews, the UNGC-Accenture survey identified five leadership behaviors that identify companies making a real effort to address the challenges of climate change:

  • Provide proactive and constructive input for governments so that they can create effective climate policies

  • Work with industry peers to build leadership and foster innovation

  • Develop and invest in low-carbon technologies (obviously)

  • Take measurable steps that demonstrate climate resilience

  • Establish science-based emissions targets that meet the oft-cited 2°C threshold

The big question, as this report indicates, is how business leaders can close the gap between ambition and actual execution. Countless publications, including Triple Pundit, are full of stories about companies setting targets and creating goals related to climate change. The actual results, however, are often in question. And while the private sector insists that governments need sound policies, whether they include a carbon tax, cap-and-trade markets, or other sustainability-related regulations—the reality of politics is a huge barrier to the implementation of what is needed to create a genuinely low-carbon economy.

It is easy for an executive to speak his or her mind about what the government should do and how industry can support such an agenda. Of course, such support often changes when a new law affects the operations of an individual company—which is why Washington, DC is the global capital of lobbyists. Nevertheless, the business community is ready to be engaged on climate change, and it is up to the negotiators in Paris to come up with a climate agreement that will motivate the private sector to back up copious words with action.

Image credit: Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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