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Post COP21, what’s our professional role now?

COP21 – 190 nations gathering in Paris to find a new global agreement on climate change. Were they the success everyone hoped they would be? asks Claudine Blamey. Or did the final judgement feel more like a replay of Copenhagen?

Even without the benefit of foresight however, one thing is clear – whatever commitments were made in December, they will not by themselves be enough to hold the world below 2°C of warming.

That will require a concerted effort beyond the confines of any UN agreement. It will need businesses, governments and civic society working together to find ways of contributing to the reductions necessary to avoid potentially catastrophic and irreversible warming.

What next?
The conditions certainly appear ripe for change. With a fast growing fossil fuel divestment movement reflecting mounting concerns among long-term investors about stranded assets, we’re already seeing the political and technological landscapes shifting away from coal and oil. This is being mirrored by an upswing in investment in clean technology, which is driving a strong innovation agenda. The question now is, ‘what next?’

For corporate responsibility and sustainability professionals, I believe that the next step is to help businesses to understand what the outcome of the talks mean for them. With potentially significant policy implications in the pipeline, there are inherent risks and costs for those who find themselves behind the curve when it comes to addressing climate change as part of their business strategy.

However, there are of course opportunities, especially for those companies who have not yet looked beyond their own emissions to their value chains. 

This is where the role of the corporate responsibility and sustainability professional comes into its own. Acting as a bridge between worlds, our role is often to help translate and relate social and environmental issues to the organisations we work within.
Working closely with leaders to help them understand the implications and opportunities for the business and its stakeholders, helping to shape strategy accordingly and then supporting colleagues throughout the organisation with deployment.

When the first Conference of the Parties (COP 1) was held in Berlin in 1995, I’m sure the delegates attending had hoped for a swifter route to decisive action. But whatever the outcome of Paris, we have come a long way in the past 20 years – a fact that we need to keep in mind if only to provide the encouragement we need as individuals to continue our pursuit of positive change.
Despite concerted efforts to discredit the science, climate change is now firmly back on the world’s agenda and there are signs that a decarbonised world is within reach.

As a profession, we have a key role to play in supporting this transition.

There is, of course, still a mountain to climb to turn ambition into action, but as we welcome a new year, I’d like to think that we will do so with a new-found sense of optimism and determination.

Claudine Blamey is chair of the ICRS and head of sustainability and stewardship at The Crown Estate 

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