200 days before COP21 President Hollande says business vital to “transformation of the world” that global climate deal entails

Clare Saxon Ghauri
Reading time: 6 minutes
21 May 2015

PARIS: Today French President Hollande, French Minister of Energy Ségolène Royal and global corporate and government leaders stressed the crucial role of business investment in climate action and low carbon growth, as the world steams ahead to the global COP21 climate talks in Paris which begin in 200 days.

The President spoke at the first day of the Business & Climate Summit, the cornerstone event of Climate Week Paris which is convened by The Climate Group, and which he called a ”milestone” moment toward COP21.

During his keynote address at the event, French President Francois Hollande said the fast-approaching UN climate talks in Paris will result in a “transformation of the world”, because if we fail to secure a deal we face impacts including “major risks of conflicts and displacement” and huge industrial challenges – but if we reach agreement “this requires a revolution” in terms of consumption, development, transportation and living conditions, “not just in the first few years but in the next decades”.

President Hollande said this transformation is exactly why business must play a central role: “They are the ones that are going to be the basis for these changes to come and the actions they will undertake in energy efficiency and increasing renewables, new transportation modes with little energy consumption, storing energy, the ways in which we build cities, and participate in the transition for developing countries too.”

As well as stating carbon pricing as the “most tangible signal we can send” to the wider economy, the President called for cutting-edge solutions in the emerging low carbon economy: “This is an environmental issue, but also an economic one with the prospects of green growth. If we bring together our minds and duties and are able to come up with innovations and create new technologies then we shall be able to build a new world.”


Also stressing the urgency required as we hurtle toward COP21 as well as the unique role the private sector plays in getting us there, Angel Gurría, Secretary General of OECD proposed a net zero target worldwide: “We are on a collision course with nature, and unless we seize this opportunity we risk losing a unique opportunity. The scale and pace of mitigation will need different national circumstances, but over time each county needs to adapt to a net zero emissions globally, by the second half of the century.”

Calling for “a clarion call that climate action is vital for economic development”, Angel Gurria emphasized how business “lies at the heart of what we need to achieve”, but only with the right policy in place. “If governments produce clear coherent national policies, then the full transformative power of businesses, markets and human ingenuity will be unleashed.”

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, agreed that it is a concerted effort; the bolder governments’ actions are, the more businesses will be led to reinforce policies and vice versa. She pointed out how businesses and sub-national governments in particular are the "engine room" of climate action that national governments can learn from, stating: “If you’re thinking about confrontation, forget it. It's about collaboration.”

Collaboration at a global level is emerging in the carbon pricing operations we now have in 40 jurisdictions, which Christiana Figueres says is making it possible to “move to a globally linked system”, explaining how China moving to a ‘one price’ system will have “global repercussions”.

But pointing out how tackling climate change makes sheer business sense for single entities too, the UN’s top climate chief said the reason countries have implemented over 800 hundred regulations on climate resilience “is not just for the sake of the planet, but because it is in their own national interest.”

The unavoidable theme of the plenary though was the UN climate talks in Paris this December. While the voice of Tony de Brum, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Marshall Islands, reminded the audience there are countries whose survival depends on the global climate deal, all panellists shared their perspectives on the quickest ways to get there.  

Eldar Saetre, CEO of Statoil said: “Policymakers have to recognize what it takes to transform the energy sector. And a price on carbon is the most essential rule we need to drive the investments required for the transition.” However, Pierre-Andre de Chalendar, CEO, Saint-Gobain and Chairman, EpE emphasized “better energy efficiency is key to effective climate action”.

But Jean-Pascal Tricoire CEO Schneider Electric & Global Compact France best summarized panelist consensus when he concluded: “Business as usual is not an option. We're not optimists or pessimists, we are activists for industry and business.”


As part of the Business & Climate Summit a thematic session on energy followed which saw industry experts share experiences of the most economically-viable, clean power sources.

The session was moderated by Philippe Joubert, Senior Adviser, WBCSD, who picked out new technologies, smart grids, demand side management and storage of electricity as central cogs in the energy transition, but asked the panellists “how far and how fast” they can go in adopting these low carbon solutions.

One business that is going extremely far is European energy group CEZ. Daniel Benes, the company’s Chairman and CEO, underlined how the need to diversify its portfolio as well as bolster energy security and sources means CEZ now plans to be zero emission by 2050.

While more and more companies are making the journey to low and zero carbon operations, Philippe Varin, Chairman, Areva, pressed the idea that there’s “no one size fits all” when it comes to renewables – pointing to France’s nuclear-heavy energy mix – despite the fact he says “technology is the name of the game”.

However, solar is the obvious fit for Sindoor Mittal, CEO Welspun Energy, who affirmed solar power is “a very competitive solution and is at grid parity in India”, driven by the fact “a dramatic decrease in cost has made solar viable”. But whether it is solar, wind or the dominant hydropower that drives the low carbon transition, Christian Rynning-Tønnesen, CEO, Statkraft, says a strong carbon price – EUR50 per ton of carbon to be precise – is what is needed to reach 70-80% new renewable production globally.

Agreeing that firmer climate policy is needed to redouble renewables growth and circling back to Christiana Figueres’ earlier comments, Vidar Helgesen, Ministry of European Economic Affairs and of European Union Affairs said the government has to “face up to these challenges, because they are needed to stimulate and trigger business to do what they need to do.” He said changing oil prices and climate change are currently shaping Norway’s green competitive strategy.


A separate thematic session on cities dealt with the climate challenges big metropolitan areas face, such as transportation. While technology innovation is boosting shared mobility through electric vehicles, car-sharing systems and alternative mobility infrastructures, experts illustrated that long-term plans are key to dealing with the continuous influx of passengers in growing cities.

Sandeep Dadlani, Head of Americas at Infosys, stressed how quickly the payback for sustainability projects in cities and beyond happens: “Two days back we announced joining the RE100 campaign, to become the first Indian company to be net positive in 2018. In three years we invested 15 million in sustainability, but we saved billions. This is not just about climate change, it’s also about profitability.

The stimulating full-day event was closed by Ségolène Royal, French Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, who restated the need for stable, clear and irreversible long-term policy to make up a global climate deal. She underscored that business and finance communities must turn climate action into “an opportunity for employment, against poverty and for democracy.”

The Business & Climate Summit ends on May 21 and is expected to host 1,700 attendees from over 50 countries. Climate Week Paris ends on Friday and features more than 25 events across the city.


By Denise Puca and Clare Saxon Ghauri

Climate Week Paris, which is convened by The Climate Group, takes place from May 18-24, 2015. See the full calendar of events by visiting ClimateWeekParis.org


Facebook icon
Twitter icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon
Google icon