Last week’s Business & Energy Summit in London presented a rare opportunity to gather global business leaders and national government representatives in one place to discuss climate change post COP21.
With appearances from energy secretary Amber Rudd, Christiana Figueres, outgoing executive secretary of the UNFCCC and even a video message from UN secretary general Bang-Ki Moon, the event showcased the heavyweights of international climate action.
Clean Energy News attended both days of the event to bring you the main talking points from across the summit.
1. “Paris was clearly a turning point for business”
The shadow of last year’s COP21 summit in Paris loomed large over the summit, with many of the agreements and pledges made by national governments and businesses alike being discussed throughout the event.
While future ratification of these agreements across almost 200 nations continue to pick up speed, the role of business in shaping the direction of climate change action was consistently recognised – not least by outgoing executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres.
“It is very clear that the Paris agreement perhaps could have been achieved without business but it definitely would not have been as ambitious as it is without the support of business. It really was a remarkable coalition of forward-leaning businesses and investors who came together and were very forward in their support of governments and gave the confidence to governments to be able to not just adopt an agreement but actually make it an ambitious one,” she said.
“It's also equally true that the implementation and delivery of the agreement can also not be done without business.”
With representatives from almost 300 businesses descending on Paris for the event in December 2015, the role they played in boosting the international climate change agenda cannot be overstated, particularly as it pushed governments into the ambition that Figueres spoke about.
Joining her for a pre-event press briefing to launch We Mean Business’ report on the role of companies in delivering emission reduction pledges, Steve Howard, chief sustainability officer at IKEA, said: "Paris was clearly a turning point for business. Business showed up in force in Paris, not to say 'don't do this' but to say to governments that it supports bold policy action."
2. “We must not turn our back on Europe or the world”
Coming just days after the Brexit result, uncertainty reigned over the summit regarding the UK’s place on the international stage, both in climate change terms and beyond. In a last minute visit to the summit, energy secretary Amber Rudd took to the stage to calm fears that UK policy would “downgrade” climate change in the wake of the leave vote.
“Climate change has not been downgraded as a threat. It remains one of the most serious long-term risks to our economic and national security. And the UK will not step back from that international leadership. We must not turn our back on Europe or the world,” she said.
While Brexit will likely prompt the readjustment of pledges made at Paris to give the UK its own targets outside of the European bloc, messages of government support from Rudd for continued emissions reductions should give business some small sense of certainty over any future plans to invest in technologies aligned to this goal.
3. “Nothing will be done without business”
Despite these warm words, speakers at the summit were quick to echo Figueres earlier words of warning that meeting the pledges made in Paris will not be achieved without input from the business community.
Jean-Dominique Senard, chief executive at Michelin, said that for country targets to be met action needed to extend beyond businesses and towards changes made by individual citizens of each country.
“Nothing will be done without business…but we’re now talking about a change in lifestyle, in energy habits, in culture,” he said.
During the same panel discussion, Figueres added that businesses and governments must now have “more frank discussions” on climate issues if environmental targets are to be met.
4. “We're all talking about carbon pricing”
Moving on from COP21, the issue of carbon pricing is one that comes up often in the UK and from all the talk at the summit the same is true of international firms. Global businesses which have signed up to the RE100 and pledged to source all of their energy needs from renewables are the first in this line, but others were happy to bring the issue forward.
During his speech, Senard said: "We're all talking about carbon pricing and we all understand that we need it. I think things are clear but now it’s a matter of credibility. Creating this level playing field is easy to talk about but extremely difficult to achieve.
"We can very well use an internal carbon price but I'm telling you it's not enough...so we'd like to encourage governments to make international decisions."
Steve Howard also called for improvements and said: “There's now an outstanding number of businesses and institutions that are behind stronger carbon pricing so…however that is done, whether through taxation or emissions trading, can unlock tremendous amounts of decarbonisation.”
5. “Long, loud and legal”
It’s not just carbon pricing that businesses were calling for, with Howard pressing government for improvements across the board when it comes to renewables. In his words, businesses like IKEA want government support of clean energy projects to be “long loud and legal”.
“We want clear policy signals long term enough to allow you to invest against and they can take many different varieties,” he explained.
Following the raft of cuts to support frameworks since the general election last year, support for businesses looking to install solar or other renewable technologies has fallen, leading to the growth of the current PPA led commercial market.
Howard said that other forms of incentives were needed for businesses to decarbonise and not just for renewables, but for other technologies and materials such as electric vehicles.
“You don't need short-term luxury incentives that then are pulled away, you need well thought through, well designed incentives for the technologies that need a boost. So carbon pricing, long term frameworks for things like renewables, and well thought through incentives,” he said.
If the findings of a report launched at the summit are right, businesses will be called on to deliver 60% of emissions pledges made in Paris in December and will need solar installations, energy efficiency measures and a whole host of other policy-led initiatives to allow them to do it. Pressure from business people like Howard could still be needed to ensure government deliver these schemes.