For the first time in history, every country in the world has agreed on the need for a common climate goal. All 196 nations have bought into its overarching purpose – that we must all take action to prevent our planet’s temperature from increasing to a point that would result in dangerous climate change. It’s a great outcome because if you don’t have agreement on where you are going you’ll never get there.
Whilst purpose can unite a rallying cry, once you know where you are going you need to create the conditions to enable your success. Responsibility for achieving our climate goal remains with nation states, which is why we now need policy and people to follow.
The EU has already committed to reducing emissions by at least 40% and to boost renewables and energy efficiency by 27%. Paris has increased the pressure on governments and business to deliver this by introducing standardised reporting against emissions reductions. The introduction of healthy competition between nations will certainly help but it is no substitute for the policy which is now needed to create a lasting framework for businesses to flourish and help create the necessary solutions.
Business and governments face similar challenges now in many respects in striving to deliver on this agenda. It’s a balancing act between the need to meet our long-term climate goals, leadership tenure that generally only spans the medium-term and the requirement for short-term growth and economic results. Delivery cannot be achieved if the climate agenda remains the passion of a particular personality or is put on the back-burner during economic activity wobbles. The science tells us that the consequences of doing this leads to an inevitable vicious circle from which escaping becomes harder and more expensive.
The only way to do it is to integrate the agenda into all you do and doing that involves creating a policy framework to enable it to happen. Government finance departments across the world are going to need to put decarbonisation at the heart of their fiscal policies and there will need to be a re-evaluation of pay back periods and time horizons.
A trio of recent policy developments have been promising steps in the right direction.
Firstly the UK Government’s recent establishment of the national infrastructure commission. It is recognition that if we want to secure a better future, some things require long-term planning and investment. We need to see more of this, together with consistent policy and subsidy support for green stimulus. That will enable businesses, like ours, to make long-term investment decisions and build and establish market demand for low carbon goods and services. With homes responsible for 27% of carbon emissions, we at Kingfisher will continue our call for energy efficiency to be seen as a national infrastructure priority across Europe.
Secondly the vision for forests as a result of the Paris climate talks remains reforestation, which is welcome news. Governments now need to find a mechanism for corporates to get involved in that beyond philanthropy and ensure the existing European Timber Regulation is effective by ensuring it is consistently implemented across Member States.
And thirdly the European Commission’s recent adoption of a Circular Economy Package will help business in the transition to a circular economy where resources are used in a more sustainable way. Whilst it’s early days and there is lots of detail and Member State implementation that needs to happen, it is encouraging to see a stronger package and a desire from the Commission to implement it – benefiting both the environment and the economy.
Neither purpose nor policy alone though will guarantee success. They are both fundamentally important but success starts and ends with people. This is a journey. Paris got us off on a great foot but tough decisions will lie ahead. If we are to meet our climate goals, we’ll need to engage people by showing them the benefits and bringing them along with us.
The business voice was reportedly fundamental to achieving the “landmark” agreement from the climate talks and Kingfisher, amongst many other businesses and coalitions, was proud to be amongst them. We now need national Governments to continue to hear our voice and create the conditions for us all to succeed. It’s in all our interests as our collective sum will be greater than our individual parts in helping meet our climate goal. Just as purpose needs policy and people to succeed, our planet now needs governments, companies, investors, nations and consumers to work together to deliver our common climate ambition.
My hope for this year was that we’d get the agreement we needed in Paris to put us on the right path; for 2016 my hope is that our national governments keep us on it.
Richard Gillies is Sustainability Director of Kingfisher plc
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