World’s businesses can’t wait for governments to act on climate change

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climate fundOver 450 delegates from the World Business Council on Sustainable Development met in Montreux, Switzerland this week to develop emissions reduction targets to be announced at the Paris climate conference in December this year. Representatives from companies around the world participated. Notably, no Australian company was present at the meeting.

Delegates met under the new Low Carbon Technologies Partnerships Initiative, which is grouped around 7 key themes – renewable energy, forests, agriculture, carbon capture and storage, biofuels, energy efficient buildings, and materials. Other themes being considered under the Initiative include mobility, smart grids, freight, chemicals and digitisation. Much of the agenda aligns with the zero carbon research being undertaken by Beyond Zero Emissions across different sectors of the economy and BZE was invited to share this research with the Council.

At least in Europe, it seems that business is coming around to see that they must be part of the solution to climate change. It seems they accept the science and also see the business opportunities from acting on climate change. And they also know that they can’t wait for governments to act.

Targets being discussed across the sectors are ambitious, particularly given that this is business we are talking about. Many targets considered by the WBCSD are consistent with meeting the agreed international goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celcius by the year 2100. Other targets, such as increasing penetration of global renewable energy, go further than requirements to meet the 2 degree goal.

The renewable energy targets being discussed would achieve some 3Gt of emissions reductions by the year 2030. This will require penetration well beyond the rates set by the IEA under their energy scenario to limit warming to 2 degrees. It will also mean addressing many of the barriers to greater penetration of renewable energy, including regulatory barriers.

On forestry, the council is talking about stopping deforestation and increasing global forest cover back to 30 per cent of total landmass, the equivalent to 1990 levels of forest cover.  This would involve an increase in global carbon sequestration of 10 per cent.

On agriculture, business is discussing a 30 per cent reduction in agriculture emissions by 2030, amounting to 1.6Gt/yr by 2030. This is equivalent to removing Germany’s annual emissions twice over. This also needs to account for increasing food production to feed the world’s growing population.

Discussions on CCS, cement and biofuels are less ambitious, with businesses being far more cautious about what is possible. This is partly due to the companies involved with setting levels of ambition, all currently involved with existing and dated approaches and technologies.

The targets for CCS involve storing 1Gt of CO2 annually by 2030, and biofuels replacing only 10 per cent of transportation fossil fuels by 2030. On cement, the ambition is to reduce CO2 emissions by 16.5% by 2030, consistent with the international goal of 2 degrees warming by 2100. The 360 Mt emission reductions are to come through energy efficiency and fuel substitution.

The businesses involved with the CCS stream seem set on CCS being a fix to carbon reductions, but admitted that they still require billions of dollars of funding to get CCS commercial ready. All this despite the billions of dollars of public and private funding already poured into CCS. Both the CCS and biofuels groups under the WBCSD need to involve companies at the cutting edge to show what can be achieved.

On building energy efficiency, targets being considered include a 50% reduction in building’s energy use by 2030, equivalent to a 15-20% reduction in global carbon emissions. This figure is consistent with the zero carbon research Beyond Zero Emissions has done on buildings in Australia, showing a 53% reduction in residential energy use and a 44% reduction in non-residential energy use.

The WBCSD Low Carbon Technologies Partnership initiative shows just how far leading businesses from around the world are wanting to move on climate action. It also shows that businesses don’t want to wait, and won’t wait, for governments to act.  Australia is becoming more and more removed from the realities of the world moving to a zero emissions future.

The Australian government continues to behave as though climate change is not a reality, and supports businesses and organisations (such as Bjorn Lomberg’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre) that are holding on to the past and outdated technologies. Australia may be an island continent but cannot continue to behave as an island in an international world dealing with climate change.  Australian government and Australian business must be part of discussions with world business leaders to ensure we don’t become further isolated on climate action.

Dr Stephen Bygrave is CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions and was invited to participate in the WBCSD’s Low Carbon Technologies Partnership Initiative in Montreux this week  

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  • john

    Australia will do absolutely nothing because we do not care frankly.
    I expect a paper to be released in the next few months pointing out how costly it is to have PV and let alone batteries and worse still those ghastly spinning energy producing things some times, soon.
    We now have an esteemed in some quarters study centre which will make Australia the laughing stock of the world but i guess it goes with our reliance on exporting coal as one of our pillars of wealth.

  • SM Scott

    Fresh air and clean water should be above national boundaries – get on board Australia and achieve this at grassroots level