Clean Energy Businesses Power Climate Change Progress at COP 17

Monday, December 19, 2011

The recently concluded United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, (COP 17) brought world leaders in government, business and NGOs together to try to forge progress on climate change. Despite dismal news that global carbon dioxide emissions from industry rose about three percent to hit record highs in 2010, the ultimate agreement seemed unable to overcome significant political and diplomatic obstacles to strong international policy.

David Victor, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego who has followed the UN process closely since its beginnings in the early 1990s, decried the results of COP 17, stating,

“In terms of substance, they have not really achieved much. They've agreed to have negotiations about what they might agree to in the future."

In his book, Global Warming Gridlock, he describes a pattern of un-kept promises that has plagued these diplomatic efforts.

One outcome that did emerge, however, is an alternative leadership paradigm in which collaboration and innovation prevailed. In his opening remarks at the conference, President Zuma pointed to business leaders, charging,

“The green economy can expand regardless of the COP outcome, but clear policy outcomes will accelerate growth. Business need not wait for outcomes in Durban. Forge ahead. There are many opportunities to pursue [to build a green economy]."

Down the road from the convention center, representatives from 600 corporations, NGOs and other organizations gathered for the World Climate Summit to highlight the role of the private sector and take action – with or without clear advances in formal climate policy.

Additional evidence of businesses integrating sustainable policies abound:

· A recent GreenBiz article points to companies such as Siemens, Coca-Cola and Nedbank, demonstrating ways in which they are not only embedding sustainability into their operations, but turning green into a competitive advantage.

· Overseas Private Investment Corporation recently announced that green lending jumped eightfold in 2010 to top $1 billion.

· The Sustainable Landscapes Partnership (SLP), begun as a partnership among Conservation International, USAID, the Walton Family Foundation and the Indonesian government, represents an innovative public-private partnership focused on preventing CO2 emissions through conservation and sustainable forest and land management, which will support the creation of markets for sustainably sourced products and supply chain efforts.

· The Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in September reflected great progress, as panelists from such multi-national companies as Barclays, PepsiCO, and Unilever, among others, touted the positive impacts of sustainability on their triple-bottom-line. Barclay’s Bob Diamond stated,

“In the financial services industry, we know a lot of things have to change. On Africa, it’s very, very important what lending can do to create sustainability. Food shortages are coming and going in many nations. Aid can help relieve the problem, but it can also help create sustainable solutions….It’s a virtuous circle: the producers, the farmers are willing to invest; the banks are willing to take risks. The moral of the story here is sustainable solutions are the best for creating jobs, creating economic growth and creating better lives.”
Private sector investment in green technology, while plunging 44% in the second quarter of 2011 in the U.S. to $1.1 billion, hit the $1 trillion mark globally just as the Durban conference was underway, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The annual growth rate of clean energy investing has been 29 percent since 2004, with $243 billion invested in 2010.

“Clean tech financing levels remain strong in the context of investment levels over the past several quarters,” said Jay Spencer, Ernst &Young Americas’ Cleantech Director. “We’re seeing continued commitments to solar, electric vehicles and energy efficiency technologies from the venture community, as well large corporate and private investors.”

A recent LA Times article announced that even as overall venture funding declined by about 50%, clean-tech venture funding rose by 73% over the previous year, with green companies raising almost $1.2 billion in the third quarter. California firms received more than half of that infusion of cash.

While the ideal circumstances would have business and policy aligned in support of one another, these accomplishments underscore the potential of collaboration and innovation in meeting today’s environmental imperatives.

Our Guest Writer is Diane Bucka, Founder of Responsible Business Registry. Diane is a sustainability advocate, and communications consultant with more than 15 years of writing, editing and marketing experience. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook; view her profile on LinkedIn.

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