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The Warsaw Voice » Other » November 19, 2008
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Climate Change is a Business Opportunity
November 19, 2008   
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USPresident-elect Barack Obama has proposed to spend $150 billion over the next 10 years to "green" the U.S. economy and create 5 million new jobs in the process. On Oct. 22, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) called for a "Global Green New Deal."

Is the climate crunch an opportunity to deal with the credit crunch and its consequences? And if a climate crunch is coming in the wake of the global financial meltdown, how will this reshape the global economy? What will be the impact on Poland? Who will pay the costs and who will reap the benefits?

These are just some of the questions being raised in the context of United Nations negotiations on a new international Climate Treaty to succeed the Kyoto Treaty in 2012. Starting with two weeks in Poznań in December 2008, the hope is that a new international pact to combat climate change and its consequences will be agreed and adopted by government leaders at a World Climate Summit planned for Copenhagen in December 2009.

But an international deal to cut emissions will not be possible without widespread public and business support and a willingness among those living in the North, including Poland, to substantially reduce their carbon footprint. Put simply, those in the developed North will have to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels and lead more climate-friendly lifestyles. Unfortunately, so far, insufficient progress has been made in this regard in the United States and Europe, especially in Poland and the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

Public, business and political support for a climate deal is essential also in the South. But the challenge for the South is different to that of the North. This is because the 4 billion or more across the South who are most directly affected by war, poverty and disease are also the most vulnerable and least able to adapt to climate change in today's global order. This is why those in the South must be encouraged to accelerate economic growth and development, albeit in ways that limit increases in their carbon footprint. To achieve such global sustainable development, greater access to global markets, international capital and climate-friendly technologies must be assured to those in the South by those in the North.

Markets and individual businesses from both the North and South need to play a stronger and more pro-active role. This means public policy aimed at accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy must focus on increasing trade rather than aid or philanthropy. Civil society groups and public agencies need to find more effective ways of working with business to shape the low-carbon economy of the future. This means seeing business as a partner and part of the solution, as opposed to being part of the problem and a cause of global warming.

A growing number of business leaders in Poland have recognized that climate change will mean the markets of the future will be completely different from those of today. Continuing with business as usual is no longer an option for them and there is growing recognition that more cooperation is needed with civil society groups, government agencies and other businesses. Partnerships are needed to harness the potential of business and business leaders.

Promoting business as part of the solution to dealing with climate change means engaging business in building climate-friendly communities rather than climate-friendly economies. This task is crucial as the resilience of climate-friendly communities will depend on business providing relevant skills and capabilities for building indigenous or in situ capacity for recognizing and taking advantage of new economic development opportunities.

But unlocking the positive contributions of business will require not just entrepreneurial business leaders, but also leaders from the public and civil society sectors to recognize that business can be part of the solution to the climate challenges, which must be faced now and in the future. Such leaders can be found in all our communities and many of them are already working on making their cross-sector partnerships more effective thanks to the help and support of the Partnering Initiative of the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF).

One example from Poland illustrating how cross-sector partnerships can deliver results is the Clean Business Programme, which has been helping small and medium-sized businesses to improve their environmental performance and get involved in sustainable development of the communities in which they operate. Now in its 10th year, the programme has helped over 5,000 companies reduce their carbon footprint and increase their involvement in community action for sustainable development. Clean Business was initiated as an NGO-business partnership, with two NGOs-the Polish Environmental Partnership Foundation (PEPF) and Groundwork UK-and BP pooling their respective expertise and resources to design and manage the scheme.

For those of us who will not be at the Poznań or Copenhagen climate negotiations, it is important to bear in mind three key things.

First, that irrespective of what happens in Poznań and Copenhagen, climate change and related human responses are already reshaping the global economy, international relations, travel, trade, security arrangements, food and fuel prices with consequences for the way we run our businesses and lead our lifestyles. We are all affected and will be impacted more in the future in ways that are hard to predict.

Second, that we can and must all make a difference by reducing our carbon footprint as individuals, as companies and as communities, while looking to new opportunities for business development and quality of life improvement. The climate challenge is too important to be left to government, international agencies, business or environmental groups. The UN's Kick the CO2 Habit campaign or the Prince of Wales' May Day Network provide good guidance here on practical things to do.

Third, that we cannot succeed in meeting the climate challenge by working alone or in isolation as individuals, businesses, public agencies, civil society groups and nations. We must find better ways of collaborating with others to identify and take advantage of the new development opportunities, which will emerge in coming years. This means we must work harder in Poland at becoming better partners ourselves and at making cross-sector partnerships more effective in preparing for life in a warmer world.

Rafał Serafin

Rafal Serafin is a Development Director at the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF), an educational charity established by Britain's Prince Charles dedicated to "putting business at the heart of sustainable development." For the past 12 years, he was the executive director of the Polish Environmental Partnership Foundation (PEPF), which has been focused on promoting and supporting cross-sector partnerships for sustainable development at the local or community level in Poland.

For more on the IBLF, see www.iblf.org
For more on Clean Business, see www.cleanbusiness.pl
For more on the green economy, see www. unep.org/greeneconomy
For more on the UN climate negotiations, www.unfccc.int
For more on the UN Kick the CO2 Habit campaign, see
www.climateactionprogramme.org

For more on the Prince of Wales' May Day Network, see
www.bitc.org.uk/environment/may_day_network_on_climate_change/index.html
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