On the eve of the G8 summit in Germany (June 6-8), it is worthwhile taking a cold, hard look at the resources we need as a society to manage the climate change challenge and compare those to the ones that we possess.
First, we need a common perception that we have a problem that must be addressed with some sense of urgency. Climate change is at a "tipping point" causing a growing sense of urgency. But it would be an exaggeration to say that this is a universally shared realization.
Second, we need willingness by governments to actually do something about it. That willingness will depend on the extent to which they believe their actions on energy and climate will get them elected or keeps them in office. That belief is lacking. Climate change was not a decisive election topic in France, and it is scoring low in US presidential election polls on important issues. Third, we need a feeling that there is an equitable sharing of the costs for solving the problem. This feeling is lacking.
Fourth, we need realistic options for solutions to the problem. These include technologies that can create a more resource-efficient economy and/or can eliminate the waste from resource use, such as carbon capture and storage. Providing we are not misreading the science, we do seem to possess an effective arsenal of technology options.
Fifth, we need the tools to implement these options. These can include regulations that stipulate what activities are allowed in society, efficiency standards for products and processes, taxes and fees that influence the prices of resources, goods and services. It can also involve voluntary actions by citizens and business. We do possess those tools, put need the political will to use them.
Sixth, we need funding for actions like technology development and deployment, as well as restructuring the societal infrastructure. Presently, we lack such funding, but it could be provided if it was a political priority.
Seventh, we need a willingness on the parts of all economic actors to change behavior toward more sustainable lifestyles. This will depend on a number of the above-mentioned factors, but also on whether the actions are "profitable" within the prevailing economic paradigm. For this to be the case, there must be realistic prices for the use of resources as well as costs for the pollution caused. The enforcement system that society has in place is another important driver of willingness to change. Are key actors in society willing to change behavior in a more sustainable direction? No, not unless they are forced to.
Eighth, we need constructive cooperation between the key parts of society - governments, business and civil society - to mobilize support for the transformation society will have to go through. Such cooperation is lacking. My experiences from the global intergovernmental processes like the formal climate negotiations in the UNFCCC and the G8 Gleneagles Plan of Action are that the different parts of society "live on different planets".
Governments say that the climate problem cannot be solved without business. But when it comes to their engaging with business in the intergovernmental settings, business is "a side event".
From this scorecard, it is hard to say whether the glass is half full or half empty. Society will not be able to negotiate a global framework for climate change to follow the present Kyoto Protocol when it expires 2012 without more seriousness of purpose, more willingness to cooperate, and more participation by business and civil society.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is a CEO-led, global association of some 190 companies dealing exclusively with business and sustainable development.