Demand for low-carbon technologies would emerge on a large scale if businesses sold us the benefits, an audience heard at Imperial College London.
Consumers will find it easier to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions when multinational companies offer new ranges of low-cost, low-carbon services, according to Sir David King Special Representative for Climate Change to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
A successful businessman and former government Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir David gave his reflections on the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21) at a panel discussion organised by the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London on 2 February.
Sir David told the audience of business leaders, policy makers and academics that it is a positive sign that market forces have been driving down the costs of many low-carbon and less polluting technologies and making them more attractive to consumers.
Call to action
Speaking at the event, Neil Thorns, representing The Climate Coalition, said that tackling climate change is not only about changing our energy use and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. "Breathing life into the Paris Agreement" now means engaging with citizens, connecting climate change to the things that people care about the most, such as basic human rights to health, safety and equality.
The Climate Change Coalition's "Show the Love" campaign, with its green hearts emblem and celebrity video appeal, which was shown on the evening, reaches out for just this kind of personal appeal.
Investment schemes that were announced in 2015 include Energy Africa / Power Africa, a UK-US collaboration to assist large scale renewable energy technologies in Africa, and create the market conditions to empower a move to low-carbon energy across the developing world.
Financiers also hope that new technologies and markets will arise out of commitments by the UK and 19 other countries to double governmental and state-directed clean energy research and development investment over five years through Mission Innovation, and the commitment of a group of wealthy individuals through the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.
The Paris Agreement is being seen by many as a call to action; "the end of the beginning," for efforts to avoid and adapt to the effects of climate change, according to the argument made at the event by Josué Tanaka from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
Value in the market
Jeff Seabright of Unilever explained how multinational businesses should lay the groundwork for consumers by incorporating low-carbon solutions throughout their operations and lead the way by overcoming the financial challenges that smaller scale companies face. Unilever and others in the RE100 movement have pledged to increase their use of renewable sources for energy and electricity to 100 per cent.
Seabright also attended the World Economic Forum in Davos last week to discuss the relationship between the international development and climate agenda, underpinned by the need to protect human rights, which he explained is another focus shared by business leaders.
Sir David emphasised that governments and other parties must maintain momentum, by acting immediately, rather than seeing the Paris Agreement as having 'solved' the issues of climate change.
Alyssa Gilbert, Head of Policy and Translation at the Grantham Institute, said after the event:
"Calculations based on the NDCs suggest we will not limit global warming to the ambitious goal of 'well below 2°C temperature' that was agreed in Paris.
"It is essential the new climate and carbon emissions policies that emerge after Paris are strong, and send the necessary signals to public and private sector investors. A stronger policy framework means it will be more attractive for all to take action – from individual citizens through to big businesses, enabling a more rapid transition to a low-carbon, resilient future."
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