COP19: Role of business at Warsaw in the spotlight, as new guide launched

20 November 2013

COP19 in Warsaw, Poland, runs from November 11-22, 2013. As part of our involvement in COP19, Damian Ryan our Senior Policy Manager, is providing news and analysis as well as live tweeting. Today Damian reports from the second day of COP19's second week, where The Climate Group co-launched a guide to corporate engagement on climate policy

Damian writes:

The role of business in tackling climate change has been a headline issue for many at this year’s UN Climate Conference in Warsaw.

Members of the business community (or ‘BINGO’s – Business & Industry NGOs – in UN-speak) have of course been active observers of the UNFCCC process since the very first COP in 1995. This year, however, the profile of business has been notably higher and not always for the right reasons.

Poland steps up business engagement…

On the positive side, Poland as host country and COP President has actively sought to engage businesses in the formal process. Given that the private sector owns most of the relevant low carbon technology, as well as the capital and skills needed for addressing climate change, such engagement is both sensible and pragmatic.

Business representatives were therefore present at the important pre-COP mini-ministerial meeting in October and will also participant in a number of high-level segments this week. In addition, a flurry of business summits have been held in Warsaw over the last ten days, extolling the leadership opportunities and roles that business can play in decarbonizing economies.

…but looks to the high carbon past not the low carbon future

The Polish government’s progressive attitude towards business generally has been soured for many however, by its decision to also co-host the World Coal Summit over the past two days here in Warsaw. Had this occurred at any other time of the year, the government could perhaps have been excused given the central role that coal plays in Poland’s current energy system.

But the decision to run the summit in parallel with the COP has been described by some observers as “diplomatically naïve”.  It also offers few benefits for the wider business community; simply reinforcing the view among environmental groups, other observers and the public that ‘business’ is some monolithic, fossil fuel body bent on maintaining the status quo.

Too close for comfort?

In addition to this rather short-sighted approach to diplomatic risk management, the Polish government has also sought to cover its costs for hosting the event by allowing corporate sponsorship.

Some might argue that in this age of austerity such an approach represents sound financial management on the part of the government. There may well be some merit in this argument.

But COPs are intergovernmental processes, not sports events. A domestic analogy to demonstrate the inappropriateness of this corporate sponsorship would be if Tesco sponsored the next sitting of the British Parliament or Walmart did the same for the next US Congress.

The whiff of privileged access and closed door deals for corporates simply erodes the credibility of not only the UN process but the legitimacy of the business community as well.

Given the tremendous low carbon technologies, goods, services and financing instruments being developed by large corporates, SMEs and entrepreneurial starts-up, such a broad brush portrayal and perception of business damages the opportunity narrative that smart businesses have to tell and which is so desperately needed in the UNFCCC process.

The need for Legitimacy, Opportunity, Consistency, Accountability and Transparency

It was timely therefore that today saw the official launch of a new report, Responsible Corporate Engagement on Climate Policy, at the Caring for Climate Summit hosted by the UN Global Compact (UNGC) in Warsaw.

Graphic from the report showing the post-2015 business engagement architecture on climate policy (click it to share on Twitter):

graphic cop

Written by a coalition consisting of the UNGC, WRI, CDP, Ceres, WWF and The Climate Group, the report sets out five core elements that define a responsible corporate policy engagement strategy (Legitimacy, Opportunity, Consistency, Accountability and Transparency) and three basic actions that corporates need to take to implement such as a strategy (Identify, Align and Report).

The report sets a best-practice floor, not a ceiling, for responsible policy lobbying by businesses. At a time when public reputation of the corporate world is under intense scrutiny by regulators, the media and the public (and not just within the climate sphere), this report deserves the attention of corporate leaders.

In Warsaw, the business community has a huge amount to offer the negotiation process. Indeed, it is the constituency upon which any final deal will ultimately depend on for its successful implementation. To make this happen however, business needs to ensure it is firmly out in the open and not engaging in the shadows. Anything less is a loss not just to the process, but a disservice to businesses themselves. 

Related news:

New guide launched to help companies to report their climate policy positions

COP19: Hurricane Haiyan puts ‘loss and damage’ front and center

Days before COP19 in Warsaw begins, read our overview

COP19 begins in Warsaw: "A new universal climate agreement is within our reach" - Christiana Figueres

COP19: Pressure is on from scientists and energy experts in wake of Philippines typhoon

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