What Will Business Get From Poznan?

The world watched, although in what seems to have been a relatively detached manner, given the general lack of coverage, the events happening over the last two weeks at the UN's climate change conference in Poznan, Poland (1-12 December). "Present but not contributing" would aptly describe some of the nations there. The US had a delegation, but it represented outgoing president Bush. Obama did not send his own climate team, although he has called climate change "a matter of urgency."

"It has affected the meeting in a fairly significant way," said Gus Silva-Chavez, a policy expert at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington who has been observing the closed negations. "A lot of people think: 'this is not the time to put our cards on the table. Let's wait for the new administration. Why agree to anything now?'" ["White House change hobbles climate session", International Herald Tribune, 11 December 2008.]The EU held its own summit on 11-12 December, looking to finalize its own climate package, a fact which only complicates matters — countries present at both could not fully participate at the first without knowing the outcome of the second (more "present but not contributing"). While Germany has long been at the heart of the EU, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made clear that the country's heavy industry will not be in play when it comes to proposals to combat climate change unless other countries outside Europe agree to similar moves. The country clearly fears having to pay the price for easing the burden of CO2 reduction measures on its poorer eastern neighbors, like Poland. Because of its larger industrial sector than Britain and France combined, Germany is forced into this unenviable position, especially due to the state of the global economy.

But beyond governments, who were only partly there and were only partly willing to move things forward, business has its own voice to add to the discussions, and did just that over the two weeks. At the ministerial breakfast on Friday the 12th, co-hosted by World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) President Bjorn Stigson and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer, business added its voice to the mix, giving key messages that it needs governments to hear and address. The first message is that climate change is a fundamental issue for business; it will have major impacts on business strategies and operations. Business therefore has legitimate and strong views on the policy framework needed to address this problem. The breakfast was attended by 29 environment ministers or their delegates, as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

"What business needs from Poznan is progress," says Bjorn Stigson. Business is ready to play its part in the making of those decisions, and society has been asking for it to do just that. Business was first formally recognized as a contributor to the process of negotiating a post-2012 international climate agreement last year at the same climate change conference in Bali. "In the year since, there has been much brainstorming across all sectors of society about the way forward. Poznań is where this work must coalesce from talk to text. If negotiation on the text of the agreement does not begin at Poznań, it is likely that it will not be finished in time, resulting in a gap between the expiration of the current Kyoto targets in 2012 and the start of the next.

"For the world's climate, this would be unforgiveable. We simply cannot afford to waste this time," he said.

On 9 December 200 senior leaders from business, government, civil society and policy-making met in Poznan for a day-long event, the Poznan Business Day, to discuss how to formulate the post-2012 climate regime. At the event, Yvo de Boer said: "Copenhagen must deliver three political essentials: ambitious commitments by industrialized countries to cut emissions, a way to mobilize much larger funds to help the developing world take measureable action and adapt to climate change, and effective, transparent institutions to deploy that money effectively to the right place, at the right time."

"We need a global partnership between the public and private sector, a self-financing compact to fund action against climate change that offers the right policies, incentives, price points and market mechanisms to attract investment and stimulate business activity along the path of clean energy and green growth. Business plays an essential role in helping define how the market mechanisms embedded in this structure will work to greatest effect," said Mr. de Boer.

An investor delegation personally presented a call for action on climate change to world leaders at the conference. Signed by 152 global investors worth over US$ 9 trillion, the statement calls on world leaders to negotiate a strong and binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol to ensure that investors receive the market signals critical to funding the transition to a low-carbon economy.

"The lion's share of the investment needed to mitigate the damaging effects of climate change, and to adapt to them, will come from the private sector. But the private sector will be reluctant to invest into a policy vacuum, a period where the fate of investments could be uncertain. Governments wanting technology development and transfer must ensure this does not happen," said Mr. Stigson.

The final message given at the ministerial breakfast was that business stands ready to work with governments to define a new public-private partnership for action on climate change.

The question is, was government listening, and if so, what will business get? Only time will provide answers to these questions, and right now, taking that time is a luxury.

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