This G20 must push COP21 agenda by ending fossil fuel subsidies

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of PLC.

About 40 of UK emissions are covered by the ETS. Without the UK, the remaining EU Member States would either have to increase ambition or reduce the overall target. [glasseyes view/Flickr]

The first G20 summit since the Paris Agreement is due to start in China on Sunday (4 September). COP21 was a turning point in political action on climate change. Europe must push for an end to fossil fuel subsidies at the G20 in order to capitalise on its momentum, urges Jill Duggan.

Jill Duggan is director of the Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) and is also director of policy at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL).

Nine months on from Paris and the work begins – but when exactly? Many companies are still playing a waiting game, as governments figure out the policies to deliver their contributions to climate targets. But by waiting too long do they risk being left behind?

G20 countries account for at least 80% of global emissions, so they must play the leading role in setting the right level of ambition and the right sense of urgency. The country level ambitions put forward for Paris were a welcome start.

But, as we now know, these ambitions are well below the effort required to prevent the droughts, floods, heatwaves, sea level rises and subsequent economic damage that are the likely outcome of higher levels of warming. So incremental change is no longer an option.

Let’s break down the enormity of the task at hand. Climate experts agree that to avoid reaching a tipping point for planetary climate systems, we need to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Yet a recent State of the Climate report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals that average global temperatures were already more than 1 degree above pre-industrial levels for eleven months over the past year, and peaked at +1.38 degrees in February and March this year.

So, change needs to be radical and it needs to happen now. But how can business and government achieve this?

Driving change at the scale and pace needed is only possible with effective leadership from both governments and businesses. As we enter a new age, where brave decisions are required to disrupt ‘business as usual’, we need progressive, ambitious and courageous leaders to raise the levels of aspiration and ability to build a more sustainable economy.

If we are to meet the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement, it is crucial that the G20 now gives a strong signal to business. Their message must be loud. Their language must be clear; we have a monumental task ahead of us. The private sector is crucial in helping us get there, so companies too must act now.

They must shift from being just compliance-focused to being creative innovators. They must stop thinking incrementally and deliver the innovative solutions needed to lift our society into the next era.

In the context of delivering a zero carbon economy, now is the time for businesses to think ahead to 2050. Where will their markets be and what are the implications for their products and services, supply chains and stakeholders?

The good news is that for all the current policy and investment uncertainty, there has never been a better time to invest in clean technology, emissions reductions, and greener business models, both at a national and an individual business level.

Many leading companies, such as GE, Unilever, Nike, IKEA, Toyota and Natura, have moved from taking the small steps required for a lower carbon economy to taking the big leaps required to innovate and create a zero carbon economy. These companies are already reaping the rewards of offering ‘green’ products and services, a market which has grown to over $100 billion.

Transformational enterprises recognise the benefits of exploring different business models, addressing problems laterally, and working collaboratively. Some eye-catching recent developments, such as AirBnB and Uber, have shown how technology can be used to harness existing capital and share resources such as taxis, houses or hotels.

Policy makers also need to think creatively, and develop new and radical frameworks to encourage the entrepreneurship and innovation that will help us through the challenge.

The leadership of the G20 is needed, now more than ever, to prepare the ground for business leaders and remind them of the pivotal role they will play in shaping a world where success means working towards a sustainable future for everyone.

We urge Europe’s leaders to push for a rapid end of fossil fuel subsidies at this year’s summit, which send the wrong signals to investors and consumers and continue to slow down our progress towards a zero carbon economy.