Private Sector: The United Nations is calling…

December 3, 2015

I’ve been attending UN Climate Summits off and on since I was a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation that went to the Bali negotiations in 2007. At that point in time, I was an articling student and recent grad from law school, fresh from taking deep intellectual dives into the academic literature on international environmental law. Being in the halls of the UN climate negotiations was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. It was my dreams coming true. It represented the hope that international multilateralism could save us from ourselves and address the most pressing global issue of our time. There was a sense of urgency, of courage, of passion that drove us youth to pay close attention to the minutia of the negotiations, to press for more ambition and more certainty from negotiators and decision-makers. In Bali, we got a roadmap that was supposed to lead to a comprehensive agreement in Copenhagen in 2009. To some that was seen as a breakthrough, however, as a Canadian, I saw the realities of political-influence in the UN system and my naiveté was cut with a sharp knife. Short-term politics can get in the way of solid long-term policy.

I left the Bali conference in 2007, and the subsequent conferences in Poznan and Copenhagen feeling a bit more dejected each time. My dreams of an international legal mechanism to adequately address climate change were not coming true, instead I was sobered by the complex challenges facing the process.

But this time, in Paris, is different.

The international negotiations have come of age, this is the 21st conference of the parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and like many 21 year-olds the COP is now maturing into a productive entity. However, we also realize it is not super-human, it is not infallible and it is not a complete answer to the most pressing of global challenges. It is an important piece, but only a piece. There are many who are writing about the important detailed being hammered out in the negotiation halls, but I will not join them today. My main take-away from the past few days is that the hard-working negotiators are getting close to an outcome here in Paris that will help us get to a solution. It’s not a complete answer. It’s a start.

Paris is marking a time in history where we are ready and we must act. All of us.

The international outcomes arrived at here in Paris will set the tone for global, national and subnational policy. The private sector can then take direction and innovate, inspire and make the bold changes that are required to avoid the worst and adapt to the inevitable.

I am spending my time here listening at many side-events to the innovations and ideas on how to drive efficient and effective climate solutions. Many of them lead by private sector actors, who if provided with public demand and policy tools can lead the charge to a more sustainable future.

For instance, unlocking the vast potential for institutional investors like pension plans and large banks to invest in de-risking our future is ripe fruit ready to be picked. An exciting example of this is the new Climate Investor One facility by Dutch FMO, officially launched today at COP21. The facility is aimed at attracting private investors to renewable energy projects in developing countries. This type of programme could potentially be deployed very widely and for a variety of project-types. Another important aspect of what is happening here is the focus on local actions of sub-national entities, with municipal governments sharing ideas and best practices to support low-carbon communities along with climate adaptation and resiliency initiatives.

It is time for the private sector to drive innovation forward. The public is demanding it and after COP21 is over, we will hopefully have stronger policy positioning upon which to build longer-term plans for business innovation. The UN system will likely remain as watchdog and guide, but cannot do the hard work of mitigation and adaptation alone.