The United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference (COP17/CMP7) was held in Durban, South Africa November 28 through December 9.
Given the tough economic times that many countries are facing right now, most were apprehensive about the outcome of the conference and what changes it might bring to already struggling countries and economies.
The need for some kind of change is imperative, though.
The UN estimates that, given the current trajectory of world greenhouse gas emissions, 2020 emissions will exceed the target set by the Kyoto Protocol for keeping global warming under 2 degrees Celsius.
What came out of the Durban conference was an agreement by the European Union to continue emissions abatement under the Kyoto protocol. In return, all countries, including the highly polluting developing countries of China and India, will negotiate a new mitigation regime by 2015, with the goal of making it operational by 2020.
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough of the conference was that this new emissions mitigation regime will be shared among all countries, developed or developing.
This is important, given that developing countries are now responsible for 58% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The Durban deal also acknowledges that current mitigation efforts are not enough to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius. Indeed, when it comes down to the people and businesses that actually need to make the changes, things are still not exactly clear.
The head of sustainability and climate change at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Jonathan Grant, said, “The agreement reached was more of a victory for the UN process, than for the global climate, or in creating a new business imperative.”
“Business will shrug its shoulders over Durban and wait for direction from national capitals,” Grant said.
However, even with a lack of formal regulation, some businesses are making the choice to implement changes that help counteract global warming. Many have discovered that some “green” investments, like energy efficiency and improved waste management, make commercial and financial sense.
High oil prices mean that improved energy efficiency can end up saving a business a lot of money, with the “side” benefit of being better for the environment.
According to the Carbon Disclosure Project, “59% of emissions-reducing investments made so far—mostly in energy efficiency or renewable energy—will pay for themselves in three years.”
Renewable energy, such as solar and wind energy, is attractive because the electricity generated from solar panels or wind turbines goes directly back into the business.
Businesses with operations in remote areas (such as some mining operations) can benefit from being able to provide their own electricity. These businesses may be ahead of the game in other areas, as well.
A business with the foresight to develop or use products that consume fewer natural resources will be ahead of the game both environmentally and monetarily when the supply of natural resources dries up.