Climate of hope, amid a season of summitry: Anticipation builds for vital summits on sustainability and climate change

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Speeding through a season of summitry, the world’s policymakers now have sustainability at the forefront of their autumn agenda – and the private sector, as well, must rise to the sustainability challenge. Anticipation is building for this month’s opening of the United Nations General Assembly, where the next-generation blueprint for global development – the long-awaited, painstakingly crafted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)  – will enshrine sustainability as the central long-term international priority.
Sustainability writ large – in all its environmental, social and economic dimensions – has been the theme driving the global debate as the SDGs have taken shape. A comprehensive plan that prioritizes 17 objectives – with 169 indicators to measure their progress toward completion – the SDGs will frame the global agenda through 2030. The SDGs’ adoption – at a U.N. summit from September 25 to 27 – will be a pivotal checkpoint along this year’s complex pathway of diplomacy, which will culminate in Paris in December with a crucial conference on the greatest of all sustainability issues: climate change.

Optimism seems to be steadily increasing as diplomats continue to negotiate a global climate-change deal. The hope is for an ambitious agreement at the so-called COP 21 conference – the 21st gathering of the Conference of Parties in the climate-change negotiations. The question, however, is how ambitious that pact will be.

As Rachel Kyte – the World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy on Climate Change – pointed out in a start-of-September forum at the World Bank: “I think that everything is in place for a deal to be struck in Paris, a deal that is universal, that brings everybody in to the table. . . . So a universal deal, a universal framework . . . is possible. The question, I think, is how strong a deal it's going to be.”
Rachel Kyte on Climate Action

As the clock ticks down to the deadline for a deal in Paris, Kyte (in conversation with Kalee Kreider of the United Nations Foundation) offered a detailed analysis of the intricacies surrounding the final stages of the negotiations: “The question, really, now is the level of ambition, the strength of that deal. And that's politics, not science. That's politics, not economics.”

Inside the 100-day mark before the COP 21 delegates convene, the consensus-building process is approaching its crescendo. The conference’s host, the government of France, formally opened the COP 21 preparations on September 10 with a strong call to action by French President François HollandeFrance has been convening a series of international forums to help consolidate the consensus for a strong climate-change pact – and the French Embassy in Washington was the site of a recent event, on Tuesday, September 22.

Readers of this Private Sector Development blog, with their focus on the private sector’s positive and powerful role in addressing the world's most urgent challenges, will be especially interested in the Washington forum’s private-sector-focused theme: The embassy’s Office for Science and Technology – through FACTS (the “French Ameri-Can Climate Talks”), the United Nations Environment Program and the United Nations Foundation – hosted speeches and a panel discussion on “Climate Change: Innovation and Engagement of the Private Sector.”

The private sector's commitment is indeed indispensable: Delivering on the promise of the SDGs and any eventual climate-change accord will require the assertion of the full creative energies of private business, as Alex Evans of the Global Dashboard and the Center for International Cooperation argued in a recent essay in The Guardian: “Business is, after all, the key driver of job creation and growth in developing countries, accounting for an average 60 percent of gross domestic product, 80 percent of inward capital flows and 90 percent of jobs. The private sector is already the world’s biggest engine of poverty reduction and rising prosperity in the developing world.”

The driver of socioeconomic change is private-sector dynamism. Public-sector bodies can adopt any type of policies they'd prefer, envisioning ideal environmental or scientific standards  but, to achieve those goals in practice, private-sector firms must assert their technical and organizational ingenuity to make change happen.

At the French Embassy event, along with remarks by Ambassador Gérard Araut, the keynote addresses were delivered by two top executives of the leading international financial institutions: Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and Bertrand Badré, the managing director and chief financial officer of the World Bank Group. Building on the success of the midsummer Addis Ababa conference on financing for development, the challenge of mobilizing resources for climate finance featured prominently in their keynote speeches.

Badré said in his embassy address  – the video of which can be seen by clicking here (at"Climate change is a fundamental threat to the economic growth of many developing countries, as the poorest of our world are disproportionately affected. If we do not confront climate change, we have no hope of achieving our goals of ending extreme poverty or boosting shared prosperity. . . . We cannot forget those who are most vulnerable and who suffer the greatest – the poor. . . . As we speak of a deal in Paris, we should do all we can to ensure that vulnerable and impoverished communities, which suffer disproportionately from climate change and are least equipped to cope with its impacts, are protected."

"2015 – in fact, this month – marks a significant moment for development, as the international community will agree on the set of Sustainable Development Goals that take us to 2030," said Badré. "Achieving them, and in particular helping countries implement actions for climate change adaptation and mitigation and disaster risk management, will require moving from billions to trillions in resource flows. For this to happen, we must embrace a paradigm shift that encompasses a framework reliant on resources and investments of all kinds — public and private, national and global. Financing from private sources, including capital markets, institutional investors and businesses, will become particularly important. This is one of the key shifts I see this year, and it is not an easy one."

Climate Forum at the French Embassy in Washington

The embassy event reinforced the fervor with which Kyte spoke during her early-September analysis at the Bank: Climate change is “affecting everybody everywhere. . . . If we can tap into who we are as human beings, as well as who we are as economists and entrepreneurs and policy wonks – [then we] won't forget the urgency of what we have to [achieve] over the next few years. . . . These conferences are critical moments of an inflection of energy . . . but it's all about what happens on the Monday morning afterwards. Because this is about how we will live over the next few decades. This isn't just about 13 days in Paris.”

With sustainability at the forefront of this month’s United Nations and SDGs agenda, and with expectations intensifying in advance of the Paris COP 21 conferenceoptimists eager for a COP 21 success will be closely monitoring the nuances of negotiators' pre-conference positioning. The forum at the French Embassy in Washington, with its forceful keynote speeches by Lagarde and Badré, emphasized the need for action – through the public sector's vision and the private sector's can-do creativity – to fulfill the deal that now seems destined to be struck in Paris.

Turn Down The Heat


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