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Business takes leadership role at COP21

In recent years, businesses have been indirectly a part of the United Nations conference on climate change (UNFCCC COP), mostly as observers or lobbyists. But this year is the first time that business is showing true constructive leadership and influence within the negotiations and on the side as well.

In recent years, businesses have been indirectly part of the United Nations conference on climate change (UNFCCC COP), mostly been as observer parties or lobbyists. But this year, during COP21, is the first time that business is showing true constructive leadership and influence within the negotiations and on the side as well. 

There will be more than 180 business events during COP21 — including the event I am organising, the World Climate Summit, which has been the original business summit since 2009. There will also be, for the first time ever, a business solutions gallery in the official UN zone at the COP21 venue called ‘La Galerie COP21’.

This week, more than 350 companies with US$8 trillion in revenue will send out a strong statement to support an ambitious Paris climate agreement.

First the first time, We Mean Business Coalition released a Business Brief to all the COP21 negotiators that aims to assist the governments meeting in Paris to finalise the new international climate agreement. Indeed, businesses are not doing the usual ‘advocacy’ work, but actually proposing a set of eight key ‘asks’ for an ambitious agreement. They include:

  1. Net Zero GHG emissions well before the end of the century.
  2. Strengthen commitments every five years.
  3. Enact meaningful carbon pricing.
  4. New and additional climate finance at scale.
  5. Transparency and accountability to promote a race to the top.
  6. National commitments at the highest end of ambition.
  7. Adaptation to build climate resilient economies and communities.
  8. Pre-2020 ambition through workstream 2.

Secondly, the World Economic Forum launched a letter signed by 78 CEOs calling for urgent climate action. In it, the CEOs urge:

“Governments to take bold action at the Paris climate conference (COP 21) in December 2015 to secure a more prosperous world for all of us.”

The statement goes on to offer three commitments from their companies, and four tools for governments to use:


  1. Voluntarily reduce GHG emissions
  2. Act as ambassadors that climate change is real and solutions exist
  3. Actively manage risks within their business


  1. Implementing a price on carbon
  2. A strategic action agenda to stimulate innovation
  3. Transparency and disclosure with regards to energy-related activities
  4. Setting science-based targets in business planning for the development of future energy 

Businesses have never been so ready to support climate action and build a global low-carbon economy. The signals this week have been loud and clear. Now let’s hope that all governments do realise that businesses can be a force for good and that they are ready to support a global deal on climate change with them.

Michael Mathres is the co-founder and director of World Climate Ltd, organisers of the World Climate Summit. A French national, Michael has been an environmental advisor, campaigner and entrepreneur for more than 15 years, working with governments, large companies and financiers, inter-governmental institutions, the media and celebrities on sustainability, climate change, renewable energy and the green economy. A version of this article was first published in EcoWatch. 

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