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UN sets environmental ‘guidelines’ for business to adopt

First-of-its-kind guide calls on companies to align corporate sustainability initiatives and climate policy

Companies like Ikea are installing solar panels throughout their stores. (Pic: Strata Solar)

Companies like Ikea are installing solar panels throughout their stores. (Pic: Strata Solar)

By Nilima Choudhury 

The UN Global Compact has today released a set of guidelines to help companies engage in climate policy in a transparent and accountable way that is consistent with their sustainability commitments.

The Guide to Responsible Corporate Engagement in Climate Policy, put together with seven leading organisations, sets baseline expectations for companies to provide proactive, constructive input for governments to create effective climate policies.

The guide is the result of research and interviews with more than 75 business and policy leaders from more than 60 organisations across 20 countries.

UN Global Compact executive director Georg Kell said: “Engagement by the private sector that is collaborative, serious and solutions-oriented is vital, and can help ensure widespread support for sustainability, climate action and broader UN goals.

“With leading technological and social innovations already in place, there is enormous potential to produce results if greater scale is achieved. The time is ripe for enlightened business leaders to scale up corporate sustainability by engaging responsibly on climate policy, ultimately helping to drive energy efficiency, renewables and technology in a low-carbon economy.”

Negativity

The report comes as the role of business in policymaking receives increased attention and negotiators meet at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP19) in Warsaw, Poland, in order to guide progressive businesses to lobby in favour of a global, legal climate agreement by 2015.

Negative and resistant business interests can obstruct policy action.

Samantha Smith, leader of global climate and energy Initiative at conservation NGO WWF said: “One of the things that we’re seeing is overwhelming evidence of the influence of fossil fuel industries on the process and on policy making at the COP.

“You can be quite sure that if businesses and trade associations were giving a different message then we would also be having a very different discussion amongst governments.

“So in a lot of places if business were willing to move first, if folks got out of their trade associations, if trade associations were called out for their unprogressive policies, we would actually see much more action from governments and that would benefit businesses who don’t want to do business in a high carbon environment and would like to be rewarded for all the things that they are doing now.”

Earlier this week, trade association, the US Chamber of Commerce was said to be trying to build political momentum behind legislation that would greatly scale back the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) carbon emissions rules for new and existing fossil fuel power plants.

Manish Bapna, executive vice president and managing director of the World Resources Institute, a global think tank said: “Does this position reflect the views of the majority of companies [the Chamber of Commerce represents]?

“These are the types of questions and challenges we’re trying to tackle in this guide and what we’ve done for the first time is to give a very practical guidance to companies on how they can play a part in the constructive role in helping set climate policy.”

The guide will be highlighted at a special session of the inaugural Caring for Climate Business Forum during COP19, on 19 November in Warsaw

Guidance

Bapna said the business community sees the climate change challenge as an opportunity but need support from governments.

“To actually take advantage of that opportunity [businesses] need clear and consistent climate policies in place.

“They need policy certainty so they can assess the costs, benefits and risks in making certain investment decisions. But part of the problem with achieving this policy certainty is that there has been a lot of consistently constructive business voices.”

Steve Howard, chief sustainability officer at furniture retailer Ikea said some businesses are not as well versed in climate policy as  trade associations, so without effective leadership from governments they will remain silent.

“I think the silent majority [of businesses] needs to find its voice on this so that we can balance the business voice out.

“We want to see governments play a part in setting a very clear path to the future on how we decarbonise society and how we build a better future for everybody.

“With progressive good effective government policy we will unlock the business innovation and investment needed to get this problem solved.”

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