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Mutually-Assured Survival

December 2, 2013 – If such a thing is possible, I think countries have grown bored with their own inertia vis-à-vis slowing climate change.  The sense one gets, in reading about the lack of progress at yet another Cop Conference is that, unless the next meeting is held in a place and at a time when a Haiyan-sized typhoon will disrupt the proceedings, very little will get done any time soon.  Since climate change is generally perceived as a time-sensitive issue, I present this as further evidence of our world’s self-inflicted dysfunction.

Can businesses do what nations cannot?  Peter Bakker, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), says that yes, businesses (plural) can and must come together to collaborate on a mutual agenda designed to slow climate change and, simultaneously, develop renewable energy.  The Council was much in evidence in Warsaw, sponsoring its own conference of member companies and organizational participants during the Cop Conference.  Two hundred corporate members that include companies like Siemens, Philips, Unilever, Canon, KPMG, Deutsche Bank and Nissan have teamed up with environmental NGO’s such as the Stockholm Resilience Center, Caring for the Climate, and the World Resources Institute.

WBCSD’s agenda looks to set the pace for business action on sustainable development through 2020, and beyond.  Forty of its member companies, in consultation with 800 scientists – no denial here! – have selected business priorities that sound a lot like human priorities: food, water, ecosystems, exposure to harmful substances, and climate change.   Quantifiable, measurable goals will be determined, foremost among them not allowing the global temperature to exceed two degrees centigrade above preindustrial levels.  Add to this monumental task the merely herculean effort to bring electricity to the 1.8 billion people in the world who do not have it.

Solutions have been conceptually identified, even if the particulars have yet to be worked out.  The WBCSD will develop renewable energy sources in remote areas, plant entire forests to act as sponges that will soak up excess carbon dioxide, and perform further research in the areas of carbon capture and storage.  Member companies say they are ready to begin implementation of these strategies.  Bakker says the reason is simple: “Business is recognizing that the cost of inaction, the cost of not dealing with climate change, is getting larger than the cost of action.”

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