"Enormous opportunities for business" on tackling climate change: Jonathan Pershing, US Climate Special Envoy

Ilario D'Amato
7 December 2016

Jonathan Pershing, Climate Special Envoy, US State Department

NEW YORK: Businesses and sub-national governments are leading the charge against climate change worldwide, as The Climate Group’s initiatives RE100, EP100 and States & Regions show.

This is particularly true in the US – where the path to net-zero emissions may be now more difficult under the new Trump Administration, but it is not foreclosed. On the contrary, businesses and sub-national governments assume now an even greater role on implementing the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement.

Speaking at Climate Week NYC earlier this September, Jonathan PershingClimate Special Envoy, US State Department – remarked that such agreement “really sends a strong signal to the global market about investment, and that’s going to come in a host of different areas: it will come in clean energy, transportation, building efficiency, industry and agriculture.”

Such strategic sectors can help delivering a more prosperous, cleaner world, if they will align with the net-zero emissions trajectory drawn by science to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

To achieve that, massive investment is required – which “opens opportunities for new businesses, for employment and for development,” says Jonathan Pershing. “I think all of that is going to emerge in a clean form, largely as a consequence of the commitments that leaders have made in Paris, and that now countries are implementing.”


Jonathan Pershing is one of the most experienced climate negotiators on the international scene, having followed climate talks since the early 1990s. “It has been a really significant change,” he says. “When we first began doing these negotiations in the early 1990s, we had a few hundred people who would come; in Paris they were 50,000.”

“When we first began doing these negotiations, it was a group of technocrats working from the perspective of government intervention; now it’s business, it’s industry, it’s a set of investors – a much larger coalition.”

“When we first began working on this, there was less certainty about the urgency of the problem; now the certainty is high, the agreement is high, the urgency to act is clear and the level of commitment is indicated by the level of action in Paris – and now, since then, by the number of programs undertaken in countries, in the private sector, and in civil society.”


The private sector, in particular, has played a crucial role in accelerating the necessary net-zero emissions society of the future, and in highlighting the economic benefits of doing so. For example, IKEA Group – one of the founding members of RE100 – is generating its own renewable electricity across most of its operations around the world, achieving energy security and creating an innovative business model.

“It’s very clear that the business sector is going to be a central player in this scenario,” says Jonathan Pershing. “It’s quite obvious that governments are not the prime actors. Governments create enabling environments, provide some catalytic resources; businesses invest, they hire people, they change facts on the ground.

“That’s not going to just be in one country, it’s going to be global; it’ll be not just in one sector, it’ll be universal. We will see it in the way we do everything, from the way we power our cars, the way we power our economies, the way we use our land, the way we transport goods and services, the kinds of things that we do.”

Another striking example of that is The Climate Group’s EP100 initiative, calling businesses to doubling energy productivity – maximizing the economic output from each unit of energy they consume. In the US alone, reaching this goal by 2030 will save US$327 billion a year in energy costs, add 1.3 million jobs and reduce CO2 emissions by 33% below 2005 levels.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s part of a development agenda,” continues Jonathan Pershing. “There’s no model in which climate is solved without a cleaner and more sustainable development approach, and that integration is going to be quite central. But there are enormous opportunities for business, going forward, to make that happen.”


Sub-national governments are fundamental to help forward-thinking businesses achieving these important objectives, indicating the post-Paris pathway. The recent Compact of States and Regions Disclosure report, for example, has shown that disclosing governments are putting the 2 degrees world within reach by 2020, with cumulative savings resulting from their targets equal to 2.1 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent by that date.

“If I want to take a single point of departure is that we’ve moved from a period of negotiation to a point of implementation,” concludes Jonathan Pershing, “from the end of the process of deciding what the deal is going to be, to the time when the deal turns into reality.”

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