If the 2015 Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, which resulted in the Paris Climate Agreement, was about the unification of world leaders on climate issues, COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco was about moving forward to actually implement policies and practices to meet the CO2 emissions reductions commitments that parties have made.
It turned out to be rather appropriate timing, too. The gathering of scores of heads of state, NGOs and INGOs and businesses began just a few days after the Paris Agreement officially went into force on Nov. 4. A month earlier, 55 countries accounting for 55 percent of global emissions—the minimum requirement for putting the agreement into force—had accepted the Paris agreement’s stipulations.
Now, 115 parties have ratified the Agreement (made a binding commitment), a progression that was largely unanticipated.
“We really hit the ground with this unexpected success,” Patricia Espinosa, c-host of COP22 and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said at the conference. “But now at the same time we have more urgency to get to work and finalize the elements we need in order to have a fully operational Paris Agreement.”
So what does that mean for businesses? As major influencers in cities around the world (cities are the primary emitters of CO2 globally, accounting for around 70 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2011 UN report), big businesses like Coca-Cola will need to continue advancing their efforts in sustainable practices if the COP21 goals are going to be reached in a timely manner. Perhaps more importantly, they will need to combine their efforts.
“The community of business and government are working together trying to move forward,” says April Crow, Coca-Cola global director of environment and sustainability. “The individual efforts are not going to get us where we need to be. There is much more impact to be made through our collective efforts.”
The purpose of the convention in Marrakech was to discuss how governments, organizations and businesses were going to put into practice the goals that were nailed down a year ago in Paris. Those goals included keeping the global rise in temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius, peaking carbon emissions and achieving global carbon neutrality by 2020, and creating a plan to dedicate at least $100 billion annually to climate action in developing countries.
Crow says there was “a lot of angst” at the convention with members being unsure of how specific countries will contribute to the global climate discussion in the years to come. Still, 193 UNFCCC members have already signed the Paris Agreement. So, Crow says, the current political climate in the U.S. won’t affect what Coca-Cola is doing to make its business more sustainable.
“Our business strategies don’t change based on politics,” she says. “Our environmental investments will continue.”
Overall, the convention in Marrakech didn’t draw the crowd that Paris did a year ago. The attendance was, at best, cut in half. But Crow, who was a panelist at the Sustainable Innovation Forum at COP22, says that although there were significantly fewer attendees at the conference this year, there was no lack of meaningful discussion. As the looming consequences of climate change leave businesses in a place of uncertainty about the future, many companies have begun to see joint commitment to a low-carbon economy as the only viable option for continuing sustainable growth in the long run.
We Mean Business, a coalition of businesses and investors that committed to working together to achieve a low-carbon economy in 2014, is one example of companies’ collective efforts to tackle the challenges brought on by climate change with solutions in areas like energy efficiency and water conservation.
The Coalition of 492 companies including Apple, Facebook, The Coca-Cola Company, General Mills, and Unilever have a set of core goals: coordinate the companies’ messaging about climate change, improve reporting on carbon, and develop principles to create better policy.
With more companies buying into the idea that economies are strengthened by decisive climate action, and with the Great Recession that brought so many climate initiatives to a screeching halt now in the rear view mirror, Crow and other representatives of WMB companies feel good about the Coalition’s momentum.
“Business is the key implementation partner for governments around the world as they strive to hit their NDC (Nationally Determined Contribution) targets on the pathway toward de-carbonization,” Peter Bakker, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, said at the conference. “The most innovative companies are already delivering the solutions that will define future competitiveness.”
Bakker added that WBCSD is “harnessing the power of more than 150 companies to scale up innovative solutions that can help deliver up to 65% of the emission reduction that is needed.” But, Bakker says, the Low Carbon Technology Partnership isn’t just about emissions. It’s stimulating “trillions of dollars of investment and has the potential to “create jobs for people in the low-carbon world.”
Crow says companies have to be more intentional about initiating those kinds of partnerships and pursuing the business opportunities that accompany them instead of simply trying to avert risk.
“It’s not something that one business or one government or one NGO can do,” Crow said during a sustainable innovation forum in Marrakech. “But the more we can keep those together, the more progress we can make.”
Speaking at the sustainable innovation forum, Crow also highlighted the need for Coca-Cola and other businesses to continue investing in the local communities that support them. For Coca-Cola, those investments have come in the form of watershed restoration, safe water access, and economic empowerment of women entrepreneurs.
“We operate in 900 different factory facilities around the world,” Crow said during the panel. “What that means is this water that’s on the table or any product that you have from the Coca-Cola Company doesn’t travel very far to meet you. It is, for the most part, produced locally. That allows us to make very specific choices about the beverages we serve, the packaging choices we make, and how we invest in local communities around the world.”