Corporate and political leaders including Alex Salmond and Ed Davey commit to invest in a profitable, low carbon future

Clare Saxon Ghauri
29 April 2014

LONDON: On April 28, business, government and civic leaders from China, India, North America and Europe – including the UN’s Richard Kinley, Scotland First Minister Alex Salmond and UK energy minister Ed Davey – pledged urgent climate action to build a low carbon future, at The Climate Group’s 10th anniversary event in London.

To audiences in the room and watching live online, CEO Mark Kenber shared The Climate Group’s past successes, but warned the critical climate challenge necessitates looking forward to global talks in Paris 2015 and beyond: “We’ve got five years to put the clean revolution in train – five years of action.”

Rt Hon Ed Davey MP, UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change praised The Climate Group for having a “unique ability to bring business and government leaders together to help unleash the opportunities of the low carbon economy” and said there should be no doubt this collaboration is urgently needed: “The science is crystal clear. The debate is not if emissions should be reduced, but how. And this debate should take place in the business community, because only by working together can we provide confidence and credibility, and harness the social and economic benefits of going green. For a business to gamble that climate change won’t happen just doesn’t make commercial sense.” He said the ‘booming’ global low carbon market is worth EUR 4 trillion a year and expected to grow 4% a year; in Europe clean energy investment has grown 6-fold to EUR 195 billion; and in China it has grown to over US$1 trillion. But he also emphasized the weight of sub-national governments in building frameworks for a global climate deal in Paris.

Echoing the need for low carbon leadership from all levels to trigger further action, Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP, First Minister of Scotland said via video message: “Scotland works to set an example for other countries in moving towards the low carbon economy.” Not only is Scotland’s emission reduction target being increased from 42% by 2020 to 58% by 2027, but Salmond explained the country is also a leading hub for clean energy, currently generating 46% equivalent electricity demand from renewables, with an aim of 100% by 2020. He said these targets “aren’t just good for the environment, they’re good for the economy, offering certainty for business and investors.” Salmond also highlighted how major multinationals are developing renewables in Scotland, investing billions in infrastructure and creating thousands of jobs: “There is more wave and tidal power technology being developed in Scotland than any other county.” Spotlighting Scotland’s decade of work with The Climate Group, he ended with: “Climate change is a major economic opportunity. I promise Scotland will continue to lead.”

Sub-national leadership

Ahead of a panel exploring the role of sub-national governments in creating low carbon growth, Premier of South Australia Jay Weatherill explained that up to 80% of mitigation and adaptation policies happen at the local level. He said in 2007, South Australia was the first state in Australia to enact a dedicated climate legislation, and has increased its renewable electricity target from 20% to 33% by 2020. In 2012-13, he said 27% of electricity generated in the state was from wind and 4% was from solar. He added that AUS$5.5 billion has been invested in renewable energy since 2003 in the state, with the aim for AUS$10 billion by 2025.

Hosted by US Executive Director Amy Davidsen, the panel kicked off with Stéphane Paquet, Québec Agent-General, speaking on the region’s 98% electricity that already comes from renewables. He explained Québec’s successful carbon market link with California is also paving the way for collaboration with other provinces. Bernard Soulage, Vice President, European and International Relations, Government of Rhone-Alpes, likewise asserted his region’s renewables target, of 20% by 2020.

As pointed out by Mark Watts, Executive Director, C40 Cities, much action can be achieved through city leadership too, with mayors having greatest influence on transport infrastructure, waste management and energy efficiency in buildings. He divulged: “The biggest role for cities and sub-national governments is simply demonstrating leadership; what’s most interesting to me is how C40 Cities work together, competing and inspiring each other on low carbon growth.”

Dr Josep Enric Llebot, Secretary of Environment and Sustainability from the Government of Catalonia, pointed out the unique opportunity for green growth in an economic crisis, a reason Catalonia focuses on supporting 'systemic innovation' with smart cities and sustainable mobility. Similarly, MP Jay Weatherill explained how South Australia’s budding renewables industry was a new source of economic growth after the state’s dominant car manufacturing sector went into steep decline.

Smarter business

Following the panel, Richard Kinley, Deputy Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), congratulated The Climate Group for bringing the private sector into the public discourse on climate change and into global climate talks. He said “Clean energy is being installed at record levels. It is just smart business. To ignore vulnerability is reckless. This moment is our opportunity to create the future we want and need.” He said a global deal will rely on business and sub-national governments to show without doubt the transition to a low carbon future is ‘doable’: “Governments around the world need strong signals from you, from the business community, that holding global temperature rise to below 2C is key to a prosperous, profitable future.”

Jo Confino, Executive Editor of the Guardian and Chairman and Editorial Director of Guardian Sustainable Business, spoke of the sustainability community’s current sense of ‘vulnerability’ as the world faces a choice of either entering an era of conflict or collaboration. Based on the shared attitudes of leaders from Google ad Unilever he interviewed recently, he determined: “We must move from the age of ‘me’ to an age of ‘we’.”

Next the new report we produced with Forum for the Future and WWF, entitled Net Positive: A new way of doing business, was introduced by Sally Uren, CEO, Forum for the Future. Featuring case studies from BT, Capgemini, Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), The Crown Estate, IKEA Group, Kingfisher and SKF, Sally Uren said the report and working group came about from sustainable development not yet being mainstream, spurring the need to do ‘something different’. She said Net Positive is a different approach to business that means instead of simply doing ‘less harm’, leading companies aspire to do more good.

Her inspiring talk led to an interactive session with speakers located in the audience. Joe Franses, Director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at CCE, said the company is focusing on value-chain and packaging in its aim to become Net Positive. Howard Lungley, Head of Innovation and BT Net Good, said: “It is great how businesses are now asking how to make the world a better place.” BT’s Net Positive case study is about its Net Good 3:1 strategy, whereby it aims to reduce customers’ carbon footprints by three times as much as its own. Harry Verhaar, Senior Director of Energy and Climate Change at Philips added insight on the consumer product side of low carbon growth when he said: “We are in the midst of an LED revolution. We are moving from inefficient products to intelligent connected lighting.” Also from the audience Abyd Karmali, MD Climate Finance at Bank of America Merrill Lynch stressed how important it is for businesses to factor in risk around the costs of policy change and stranded assets, and even more so around the physical impacts of company assets, supply-chains and services companies rely on.

Co-founder of The Climate Group Jim Walker then announced We Mean Business, a group of the world's business coalitions - B-Team, BSR, CDP, Ceres, The Climate Group, Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group and WBCSD - that have come together to drive ambitious climate action. He also took a question from Twitter on the role of tech entrepreneurs in the low carbon economy, to which he said they show ‘the power of the possible’, pointing to the Postcode Lottery's Green Challenge as an example of boosting innovative start-ups.

Global action

Keen to hear from our online and gathered audiences, we also held a live poll, asking for the ONE big thing they think would best drive a low carbon economy. The results were: 14% said divest from fossil fuels, 23% said cut fossil subsidies, and 35% said implement a price on carbon.

Our new India Director Krishnan Pallassana then introduced our program Bijli - Clean energy for all, funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery, with a 6-minute video. Suresh Prabhu, Former Federal Cabinet Minister, Government of India echoed the Bijli message when he said: “India has a big challenge; almost half the population is not connected to the grid. But there is incredible potential for India to become a hub for low carbon initiatives that will create jobs.” He said India has a 650k MW potential for wind power and there are huge opportunities for biomass and solar which is driving the country’s low carbon growth plan.

Changhua Wu our Greater China Director shared the Beijing Youth Lead Future Academy program, and 2014 Global Cleantech Summit in Tianjin, before welcoming H.E. The Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, who explained the country’s bold ambition on driving a clean revolution. “Stopping climate change is imperative for China’s own sustainable development, as well as its industrial upgrading.” He illuminated international pledges with the US and EU, but stressed how important strong national efforts are, such as China’s solar capacity which is estimated at 30 million KW by the end of last year, ten times 2011’s level. He also said clean energy capacity is expected to account for 62% total capacity by 2050, concluding: “This transition marks a historic shift in China’s power generation from the dominance of coal to clean energy.”

Finally our International Communications Director Eduardo Goncalves introduced chair of our board Phil Levermore, co-founder and Managing Director of Ebico, the non-profit energy company, who encapsulated the overall message from the gathered leaders at the event when he concluded: “We can’t wait for Paris 2015 to deliver. Sub-national and business actions are vital to delivering progress to a low carbon future.”

Find out more about The Climate Group's achievements

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By Clare Saxon 

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