A quiet transformation in climate change

As the climate change crisis worsens, new and innovative business models, alliances and policy efforts are emerging that are cause for hope, says World Economic Forum executive chairman Klaus Schwab.

palm oil thailand
A palm oil plantation in Thailand. A global alliance by consumer goods companies, producers, governments, donors and NGOs to ensure that commodities such as palm oil are produced responsibly is an example of a multistakeholder partnership effectively addressing climate change. Image: think4photop / Shutterstock.com

It is estimated that the impact of climate change already reduces global GDP by 1.6 per cent every year. The Global Commission on Economy and Climate has noted that as temperatures warm towards a 2°C rise, up to 2 per cent more GDP could be lost each year by 2050, even taking planned countermeasures into account. Yet, this year looks set for a record volume of greenhouse gas emissions and the world remains on course for a 4°C temperature rise by the end of the century or sooner.

Whichever way we look at it, more needs to be done.

This is the message of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as he gathers heads of government, international organizations, NGOs and business leaders today in New York for an unprecedented Climate Summit.

It is a unique gathering, and a unique opportunity. There will be no negotiations between nations and no international agreements will be signed. The time and place for that will be next year in Paris, when it is hoped that a new global agreement on climate change will be reached under the auspices of the United Nations.

Instead, the secretary-general’s Climate Summit takes its impetus from the recognition that we face a challenge in climate change of such scale and complexity that no individual actor can provide the solution alone. Only through the collaboration of multiple stakeholders can we address this problem.

This is an important development in thinking that may reflect our more complex times.

We are in an era of fiscal constraints marked by significant geoeconomic and geopolitical challenges. This makes it increasingly difficult for nation states to reach international agreement on any long-term global issues. The politics of climate change is a good example.

Yet, set against the worsening prognosis of our changing climate and its economic and social consequences, these multilateral difficulties are prompting new and innovative models. Alliances of cities, provinces, civil society organizations, NGOS, businesses, international organizations and even governments are finding common cause as they seek to address aspects of climate change in their regions or across their networks and supply chains.

One good example is a global alliance of the world’s leading consumer goods companies and producers, and many important tropical forest countries, donors and NGOs. This alliance will present a common commitment at the Climate Summit to eliminate deforestation from the production of agricultural commodities, such as palm oil, soy, paper and beef, no later than 2020. This is significant. Unsustainable sourcing of these four commodities contributes to half of the world’s tropical deforestation, which is about 11 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Something profound and very practical is taking root. The first substantive wave of multistakeholder partnerships to seriously address climate change has begun.

Another example is a new global alliance built among governments, food producers, farmers, scientists, civil society, multilateral organizations and the private sector. The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture will present a new collaboration at the Climate Summit, focused on boosting R&D and investment to spread “climate-smart” agriculture across the developing world, especially among smallholder farmers, fishers and livestock keepers. Their aim is to enable at least 500 million farmers worldwide to become more resilient and food secure by 2025.

The Carbon Disclosure Standards Board alliance is another good example. This global public-private alliance has helped create a common framework which companies can use to report their climate-related risks and performance in their annual reports to shareholders. This week, the first 50 major companies from around the world have announced that they will begin to report to the investment community on this comparable basis, and that they are doing so fundamentally out of a sense of fiduciary, not social, responsibility.

The World Bank is also successfully mobilizing new collaborations for the Climate Summit, including a global campaign to support carbon pricing. Their efforts have gathered over 1,000 global businesses and more than 70 countries, representing a significant share of global GDP and greenhouse gas emissions.

These are just some examples of the broad range of important multistakeholder collaborations emerging from across different sectors and among multiple actors in the global economy to help find solutions to climate change. Through an informal collaboration with the United Nations, the World Economic Forum is proud to play a role in helping these and other stakeholders advance this new, complementary agenda.

Whatever else comes out of the United Nations Climate Summit in New York today, this is the real news. Something profound and very practical is taking root. The first substantive wave of multistakeholder partnerships to seriously address climate change has begun.

It is a quiet transformation, and still early days. Nevertheless, this is what is most important about the Climate Summit. Looking beyond all the details, it has promoted a shift in thinking, highlighting that there are other practical ways to tackle climate change through the mobilization of successful multistakeholder collaborations. I am confident that this will offer a considerable boost to political negotiations en route to Paris at the end of 2015.

To increase momentum, I can say that the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2015 in Davos will once again maintain a strong focus on climate change and the interconnected development challenges that our world faces.

Klaus Schwab is Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum. This post originally appeared on the World Economic Forum blog.

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