Up the global agenda: A New Deal for the Climate

17 September 2009 Santam

Just as the United States president FD Roosevelt promised a new deal for Americans disillusioned after the dramatic 1929 stock market crash, so a new deal for the climate has to be ushered in to cope with a looming disaster of a completely unprecedented scale. But what is becoming clear from the presentations and discussions at the Ecocentric Journey Conference hosted by Santam and their partners in Cape Town, is that climate change is rapidly climbing the global political and business agenda. The first steps toward meaningful action begin with dialogue to understand and gauge the challenge faced, before action is taken.

Dr. Godwell Nhamo, Programme Manager for the Exxaro Chair on Business and Climate Change, asked a question which is as simple as it is profound: “If the world were an emoticon, would it be a smiley or would it be a sad face?”

Even the most hardened denialists would be hard pressed to say the world is coping well with pollution, the destruction of environments and species.

Nhamo points to the numerous global initiatives which are showing increasing political will, such as the Kyoto protocol, the recent developments at Copenhagen and the growing responsibility which is emerging from business as positive developments towards first understanding and then taking action against climate change.

“The Copenhagen Communiqué resulting from the World Business Summit on Climate Change which took place in Copenhagen was signed by 130 companies. That call has six pointers: agreement on a science-based greenhouse gas [GHG] stabilization path with 2020 and 2050 targets; effective measurement, reporting and verification of GHGs; incentives for a dramatic increase in financing low-emission technologies; deployment of existing and new low-emission technologies; the making available of funds to create communities that are more resilient to adapt to the effects of climate change; and the introduction of innovative means to protect forests,” Nhamo said.

While developed nations are compelled to take immediate action, developing ones are challenged to come up with plans for mitigation or adaptation.

“Through Copenhagen, we are seeing that the foundations laid by Kyoto are being taken further. We are seeing that the will of leaders in business and politics is turning towards a very real and very serious issue,” Nhamo stated. As that happens, he said it is essential that we all realize that it is no longer business as usual. “Change is happening. More than good governance, climate change is now a moral issue.”

Geoff Perrott, sustainable business consultant at Global Carbon Exchange pointed to a comment from Sir David King, Chief Scientist of the UK government. ‘Climate change is a more serious threat than global terrorism.’

“It is a threat which will have an impact on a great many industries. Those that are immediately vulnerable include agriculture and fisheries, insurance, forestry, energy, construction and transport. These are likely to suffer direct impacts, but there are indirect shocks which will result too, and have a far more widespread effect on almost all industries,” Perrott said.

Where Nhamo stressed the need for changes in government and business behaviour, Perrott brought in the notion of changing consumer actions. However, he conceded that where price remains a buying decision, shaping consumer behaviour will be a challenge.

Additionally, Perrott pointed out the necessity for businesses like Santam to engineer change in the ways they operate in response to the reality of climate related policies. “Change is difficult, that’s a given. But we have seen dramatic social changes since the 1960s, so it is far from impossible. When faced with the inevitable, we have to take the realities and adapt.”

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