Cancun – A change of perspective
Max Linnemann, NQA Environmental Sector Manager, explains what the Cancun climate change summit means for business
In 2012, the Koyoto Protocoll will come to an end. The legally-binding agreement set targets for 37 industrialised countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to an average of 5% against 1990 levels during 2008-2012.
It was generally agreed that to ensure the continued global commitment to tackling carbon dioxide emissions and climate change, a legal agreement was necessary. In 2009, world leaders met in Copenhagen to try to extend the Kyoto agreement, but the talks ended without a breakthrough.
The Cancun summit in December 2010, however, marked an extraordinary change in the world’s approach to tackling climate change. At the start of the conference, progress was slow, and there was genuine concern that the summit would not achieve its goals as a legally binding agreement was becoming increasingly unlikely. Global momentum in the campaign against climate change was under threat, and failure at this level would cause irreparable damage.
World leaders realised that a legally-binding document covering so many countries with different economic and social conditions was practically impossible, but instead of allowing the talks to collapse and the future of the green economy to be thrown into question, they found another option. Recognising the importance of reducing carbon emissions to the future of the planet, all those countries that attended the conference pledged to continue making the reductions promised in the Kyoto protocol and to supporting developing countries through a green climate fund. Their performance will then be assessed by the other United Nation members.
For businesses the key outcome of the summit has been the reaffirmation of the need to take climate change seriously – green thinking is not a fad, it’s only going to have a greater impact on everyday life from now on.
Since the Kyoto agreement, the UK has been leading the rest of the world with its approach to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. The 2008 Climate Change Act, the Carbon Reduction Scheme and the new energy bill, are just some of the ways in which the government is legislating to ensure organisations are reducing their carbon footprints.
The Cancun summit signals that this approach will be continued in the future. Company directors that have not had the green agenda on their radar should realise that it’s quickly becoming a core element of business. For example, currently the UK CRC scheme only applies to organisations using more than six megawatt hours a year, however, it does ask those companies that use between three and six megawatt to submit data. It would seem only a matter of time before they are also asked to purchase a carbon allowance. Cancun suggests little or no lenience in the future carbon taxing schemes.
Furthermore, with the price of energy predicted to rise by 20% by 2020, even if businesses are not worried about how they appear in corporate social responsibility terms, all will need to reduce their energy consumption in order to prevent energy costs eating further into their profit margins.
Many companies have already invested in green technologies on a site by site basis, but are looking for a way to address energy management across the entire business, in a corporate sense. If you’re serious about tackling the issue; bringing the entire workforce into the strategy, and setting a formal framework that allows continuous improvement is what’s needed – and that’s where energy management systems come in.
This approach is especially important for the public sector, which is a significant contributor to the country’s carbon emissions, but the least financially empowered to adopt new technologies. Energy management systems help such organisations to take a practical approach to cutting CO2 and identifying where resources and/or technologies should be used in order of priority.
The impact of Cancun on business is subtle, which is a good thing. Nothing dramatic has changed, and the global green momentum remains, albeit riding on overwhelming acceptance as opposed to a legal agreement. The world is a different place from 1997 and every United Nation country recognises that they have to do their bit to tackle climate change. For businesses in the UK that means being at the forefront of carbon reduction as the government continues to lead the way in legislating to prevent climate change.
Published: 08 February 2011