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What has the role of business been at the UN Climate Summit?

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Climate business

September 2014 has definitely become a critical milestone in the fight against climate change and the transition towards a low-carbon economy. Over half a million people – including 400,000 in New York alone – took the streets to demand strong action against climate change; the largest climate mobilization in history.

A couple of days later, 125 world leaders participated in the UN-led Climate Summit, reinforcing the commitment to limit global warming to less than 2ºC compared to pre-industrial temperatures and in some cases, announcing new commitments.

During and around the Summit, the private sector played a critical role. Four major initiatives were announced during this week:

  1. We Mean Business: This is a major coalition between seven large business networks calling on governments to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions and to reach an agreement by 2015 that ensures that emissions peak within this decade. We Mean Business also calls on businesses to acknowledge and support the 2ºC global warming threshold and to align their public climate policy advocacy and emission reduction targets with this threshold.
  2. RE100: This campaign led by The Climate Group and CDP is asking 100 of the world’s largest companies to adopt a 100% renewable energy commitment by 2020. Major corporations that announced their commitments in the launch of this initiative include: BT, Commerzbank, Fia Formula E, H&M, IKEA, KPN, Mars, Nestle, Philips, Reed Elsevier, J. Safra Sarasin, Swiss Re and Yook.
  3. Science-based target setting: An initiative led by CDP, WRi, the UN Global Compact and WWF intended to align the level of ambition in the emission reduction targets by companies with climate science. A number of companies have already adopted science-based targets including half a dozen companies in the US that have used the 3% Solution to calibrate the level of emissions in their emission reduction targets. Other companies that have adopted science-based emission reduction targets include Autodesk, BT and Mars.
  4. Carbon pricing: The World Bank and the UN Global Compact have convened a number of countries, cities, civil society and businesses to support carbon pricing as a mechanism to reduce emissions. In this context, the UN Caring for Climate program have launched the Business Leadership Criteria on Carbon Pricing, an initiative supported by about 30 companies.

Other initiatives include the forest declaration and the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, which have also been supported by a large number of companies.

This collection of initiatives depicts the key role that companies can – and should – play in the transition towards a low-carbon economy in a broad range of aspects. Also, the mass mobilization of civil society and the several initiatives supported by businesses send a strong message to governments on the urgency to reach a global agreement that matches the challenge ahead.

Now it’s the turn for governments to listen to and to respond to the unequivocal call from businesses and citizens for an ambitious climate framework and for companies to walk the talk by adjusting their business practices in line with the messages and commitments announced during the Summit.

Alberto Carrillo Pineda is the Head of Climate Business Engagement for WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative and is based in Mexico.

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