This year is not just the 45th year that we celebrate Earth Day. It is also a big year for humanity. In 2015, the agendas for climate, energy and sustainable development merge on a global scale. It’s the year of two major events, the United Nations Special Summit on Sustainable Development Goals in September and the pivotal COP21 in Paris, where a new global climate agreement will be negotiated in December. Decisions made at these events will influence more than just politics and the way we do business tomorrow; they will influence the kind of world we will do it in. Success for both agendas depends on ambition, leadership and action from governments and businesses alike. CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased rapidly, resulting in a significant rise in global temperatures.
The latest data in the prolific reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the American Association for the Advancement of Science confirms this. Burning fossil fuels, changing land use, and our aspirations for a higher standard of living coupled with a growing demand for energy have contributed to the situation we find ourselves in. And it doesn’t stop here. As the population grows, the issues are compounded. To avert the serious consequences for people, environment and economies worldwide—or phrased differently, to maintain a safe operating space - we must stay under the 2°C limit for global warming. This can only be achieved if we institute a net zero emissions society in the second half of this century.
For this to happen, a massive transformation across our economies, policies and societies needs to take place. Incremental change simply won’t be enough. This is a critical moment for business, government and consumers to contribute to ambitious climate action. We need big ideas driving big solutions.At the beginning of the year in Davos, leaders such as Paul Polman, Christine Lagarde, Ban Ki-moon and Jim Yong Kim agreed that sustainable development and climate are two sides of the same coin.
In the same way, global challenges like the ones we face today are also great opportunities. Beyond averting the critical risks of climate change, bold climate action will lock in a low carbon pathway towards sustainable growth and prosperity for all. The New Climate Economy Report argues that investing in green infrastructure is the only way to keep our global economy healthy. Forward-looking companies know this and they see the opportunities that climate action can bring. Innovative business leaders are increasingly looking to enter into large scale, cross-sector partnerships to reduce emissions, and are taking measures to accelerate transformational technology solutions.
At COP20 in Lima last year, the Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative (LCTPi) was launched. Supported by the French presidency of COP21, this initiative aims to present a series of concrete business-led action plans at COP21 for the large-scale development and deployment of low carbon technologies. It is a collaborative platform to identify solutions and analyze barriers, financing requirements, policy asks and opportunities for public-private partnerships that will help these solutions to be delivered at scale. The companies involved understand that business must now take the lead in implementing the solutions that will together shape the transition towards a low carbon society. Solutions need to be integrated in every company’s business model. Carbon pricing is an inevitable part of the solution. But business cannot do it alone.
For a clean and sustainable future on our planet, business both supports and depends upon on the leadership of policymakers for success. In Paris later this year, we need governments to put in place clear, bold, long-term policy frameworks. With the US, China and EU leaders sending all the right signals, the momentum for systemic change is stronger than ever, and the business case supports it. A friend of mine is an astronaut. Recently, just before he passed away, he told the story that all astronauts tell: how seeing the Earth from outer space makes one realize how thin our atmosphere is. He called on all of us to be careful with our planet.
Here on Earth, our only home, the challenge is pressing and time is short. Take this opportunity to stop and think. Ask yourself what kind of planet you aspire for. Today is Earth Day, and our Earth demands urgent action.
Peter Bakker is the President and CEO of World Business Council for Sustainable Development.