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Björn Stigson, President, World Business Council for Sustainable DevelopmentForeword - WBCSD

Björn Stigson, President, World Business Council for Sustainable Development

The economy of the future will be low-carbon. That is clear. But it is not clear what will happen between now and that future. Scientific evidence and economic analysis confirm the need for rapid, radical changes in the global energy system; this includes finding solutions in the developed and developing world alike. The next few years are critical for establishing policies to deal with energy security, competitiveness, greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation to climate impacts, and they will determine our energy infrastructure and emissions patterns for the next century. Delay risks to exacerbate the challenge and increase costs to society.

But right now delays seem likely, judging by the messages of the heads of state and government who spoke on energy and climate change at the United Nations before the General Assembly began in September. The solutions to adapt to this new dynamic must include international cooperation, partnerships and clear roles for government, business, the consumer and civil society, helping everyone understand what business can do on its own and what it needs from government and civil society to fulfil its role. However, we lack some basic foundation stones to lay these solutions upon. We lack – still – a common perception that we have a problem that must be addressed with some sense of urgency. And we lack a belief that there is an equitable sharing of the costs for solving the problem.

We need to rebuild the funding for technology development and deployment, as well as for restructuring the societal infrastructure. We lack a realisation by all economic actors that if we are to reduce GHG emissions in line with the -50% level by 2050 then it will mean dramatic changes in lifestyles and consumption patterns. The much better news is that we do possess realistic options: technologies that can create a more resource-efficient economy and/or can eliminate the waste from resource use, such as carbon capture and storage. We have tools to implement these options: regulations that stipulate what activities are allowed in society, efficiency standards for products and processes, taxes and fees.

Laying the foundations for using these options will depend on creating constructive cooperation among the key parts of society – governments, business and civil society – to mobilise support for the transformation society will have to go through. Yet creating this cooperation may be a more ambitious chore than effectively managing our global energy future. Developing country governments have argued that they will not “give up growth for green”. Perhaps we could begin our new constructive cooperation with the shared understanding that growth will depend on functioning societies and human systems that risk being devastated by climate trends and events for which they were not prepared. Business cannot succeed in societies that fail and we have a strong interest in helping build thriving societies which are good places for doing business and deliver goods and services that people want and need.

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