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  • Image by Geoff Lye

    As the dust settles after the negotiation of an ambitious global agreement in Paris, Geoff Lye offers his assessment of its significance.



    23 years ago, I left Rio full of optimism – confident that a range of Earth Summit agreements, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, would set us on a sustainable path well before I would have any grandchildren. When I got back to the UK, I made a video to persuade clients of the company I was then building to take environmental issues more seriously. In practice, not only were many of my forecasts simply wrong, but my spirit of optimism was misguided. In 1992 I had four young children. Returning for the Rio+20 conference, I had four young grandchildren – and I was struck by how little progress we had made; worse, on most measures, we had tracked significantly in the wrong direction.

    So, on a train to London as COP 21 finally closed with a truly ambitious agreement, I was – in contrast to the first blog of this series – once again seeing the climate glass as half full. In fact, I see it as much more than half full. This agreement – voted on behalf of over six billion global citizens – fires the starting gun on a quest to deliver a carbon neutral economy within the lifetimes of our grandchildren. It would be easy to highlight the many potential loopholes and future roadblocks in the agreement, but the agreement does, I believe, change the nature of the debate and shifts the framing of decarbonising our economies irreversibly.

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  • Flickr image by ConexiónCOP Agencia de noticias

    In the final hours of the Paris Conference, Geoff Lye offers his assessment of the latest draft text emerging in Paris.

    The penultimate conference text was released last night and reflects remarkable progress. The mood music is good. And there is widespread optimism that the ‘Paris Agreement’ will be voted through tomorrow. As I predicted, it was inevitable that extra time would be needed to work through the sticking points and the negotiators and ministers are guaranteed another sleepless night. I also predicted progressive dilution from the draft text brought to Paris and, inevitably, there has been some – but huge advances have been made. Even the way the agreement is worded gives a sense of compromise made in good faith and in the proper spirit; deficiencies are acknowledged and carried forward to be addressed in the years before the agreement comes into force by ‘1 January 2020 at the latest’.

    At the heart of the latest draft text are the statements of overall intent and purpose. The agreement sets its overarching goal as to ‘hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.’ It also sets an aim for countries ‘to reach the peaking of greenhouse house gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter towards reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century’. These are not, of course, as forceful or as rapid as many would like to see, but they represent profound shifts from any global agreement we have ever seen in the past.

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  • Image by Geoff Lye

    Having arrived in Paris last Friday for COP 21, Geoff Lye reports on highlights of a whirlwind of weekend events. This is the latest in his blog series on COP 21. For more, read his earlier posts.

    COPs can be very frustrating. Not simply in terms of the pace and direction of the UN negotiations, but also on account of the multiplicity of competing events at any time of any day – from breakfast through dinner . In practice, choosing which events to go to is a bit of a gamble; and I knew before I came that attending a COP is like panning for gold. You have to sit through and sift through a torrent of PowerPoints and panel sessions for the elusive sparkles. A few nuggets have emerged from the pan (as it were) and I have highlighted them in this blog.

    But first, my assessment of where the negotiations had gotten to by Monday evening. It is, of course, a fast changing picture, but there is a real spirit of optimism – in spite of some critical sticking points. The consensus seems to be that there is now agreement on where we don’t want to go (above 2 degrees), but not on how we won’t get there! [You may want to read that twice]. The text released on Saturday has reduced the overarching goal to a choice between 1.5°C and ‘well below 2°C’ as the warming threshold to be avoided. The tough part – still to be agreed – is setting the timelines for decarbonisation and agreeing how the burden of delivery is shared. Those issues will, no doubt, go to the wire on Friday (or, more likely into Saturday).

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  • Flickr photo by Alisdare Hickson

    As COP 21 gets underway, Geoff Lye considers the role of business to help deliver the decarbonisation needed to avoid breaching the 2°C threshold – the ultimate goal of the Paris climate talks.

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  • This article was first published in GreenBiz and was co-written by Aiste Brackley, Trends and Research Manager at SustainAbility and Alex Lewis, Senior Research Analyst at GlobeScan.

    In some respects the Volkswagen emissions scandal could not have come at a worse time. Unfolding two months before the historic COP21 climate summit in Paris, the revelations that the car giant cheated emissions tests reinforced long-held suspicions among some skeptics that the private sector’s buy-in over climate change was superficial. The 2015 Climate Change Survey, GlobeScan and SustainAbility’s most recent survey, reveals that international sustainability experts continue to view the contribution of business as modest. However, if we are to see meaningful long-term progress, national governments as well as the private sector will have to step up, as the two institutions will be critically important for the implementation of the post-COP21 framework.

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  • Will Geoff Lye's latest grandchild, Leo, wonder why it took us so long to avert the huge impacts of climate change?

    This is the second in a series of blogs Geoff Lye will produce in the run up to COP 21 and through the conference itself. His blogs from most COPs since the Bali conference in 2007 can be found here .

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  • Flickr image by digitalpimp

    This is the first in a series of blogs I will produce in the fortnight running up to COP 21 and through the conference itself. As a regular attendee and reporter from most COPs since the Bali conference in 2007, I must admit to a feeling of déjà vu. The world’s leaders will be coming together in yet another of the UN’s last chance climate saloons to try to deliver a global agreement to avoid breaching the 2°C threshold.

    After COP 17 in Durban I decided, in frustration at the lack of progress, not to attend future events. Yet here I am – travel and hotels booked – excited once again in anticipation of joining the biggest ever assembly1 of climate professionals, activists, politicians, technologists, scientists and economists. For the first time, however, I have failed to get accreditation to the UN’s Blue Zone – and I know that my blogs will be weaker for that. But at this COP, most of the most interesting events and networking venues are outside the formal conference. This will create a far more open environment for most attendees and I can guarantee that there will be no shortage of surprising, inspiring and, in equal measure, depressing stories over the coming weeks.

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  • A series about regional trends: The water crisis in Latin America challenges business as usual and spurs innovation.

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  • Flickr image by WorldFish

    This article was co-written by Lindsay Clinton and Rochelle March.

    As São Paulo, Brazil, suffers from the worst drought in its history, multinational pulp company Fibria, which is headquartered in the city, is one of many that has felt the pinch. At times, water has been shut off to 40% of the city and even now, after the rainy season, only 6-13% of the city’s reservoir’s capacity has been filled. In response, the company is working to reduce the amount of water it uses for forest irrigation.

    This isn’t the first time that Fibria has had to adapt to a shifting environment. Over the last several years, the rising scarcity of several essential resources – including water, fertilizer, labor and land – has pushed the company to reconsider its business model. It has diversified into renewable energy, biofuel production and sustainable real estate development. Fibria’s goal is to make these portfolio additions 20% of total free cash flow by 2025, making the company less pulp-dependent and giving it alternative options for future business growth in light of looming sustainability challenges.

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  • Flickr image by Mary Anne Enriquez

    This article was co-written by Lindsay Clinton and Rochelle March.

    Last year, the CEO of Fortune 250 energy provider NRG wrote a letter to shareholders about the lack of innovation in the energy industry. “There is no Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Google in the American energy industry today,” David Crane wrote. “NRG is not that energy company either, but we are doing everything in our power to head in that direction – as fast as we can. But we need to pick up the pace further, and that is what we intend to do.”

    Although NRG’s portfolio still includes 30% coal-generated power, it is repositioning itself and its business model to guide energy users from a grid-based power system to a distributed generation system. It’s also developing products and services related to electric vehicles, rooftop solar and home energy efficiency.

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  • Image © CC Paul Lowry

    For over 25 years, companies have valued our ability to serve as their early warning system—to interpret emerging issues and trends in the sustainable development agenda and help them anticipate, understand, and respond to shifts in the business landscape. Our Ten Trends for 2015 series distills SustainAbility’s thinking over the past year and forecasts the issues that will shape the sustainable development agenda in 2015. This is the fourth in our series of blogs expanding upon these trends.

    One of the biggest stories of 2014 was uncertainty across the energy sector, which is set to continue throughout 2015, a seminal year in the transition towards a sustainable global energy future due to the Paris climate negotiations in December 2015. Price volatility coupled with record gains in renewable energy provision, the rise of divestment from fossil fuel companies, and growing momentum for real emissions reductions is placing pressure on society to act quickly in the fight against climate change. No actor is more impacted by these changes than fossil fuel companies. The time has arrived for them to engage constructively around the provision of energy under emissions constraints and recognize their new role in society. …

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  • Image © 38 Degrees

    This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

    38 Degrees is one of the UK’s biggest campaigning communities, with over
    2.5 million members. Members link up online and offline to discuss and vote on which issues the organisation campaigns on together. Zoë Arden talked to Maddy Carroll, Director of Campaigns at 38 Degrees, about the rise of ‘people-powered’ movements.

    Zoë Arden: Can you tell me about how the organisation started?

    Maddy Carroll: 38 Degrees started in 2009 when the political establishment kept talking about widespread apathy amongst the British public. But the public wasn’t losing interest in politics, they were losing faith in politicians; they still cared very much about the issues. 38 Degrees came out of a model of campaigning that started in America with an organisation called MoveOn bringing large numbers of people together to campaign on issues they care about.

    The ‘Stop Forest Sell-Off Campaign’ that started in 2010 was a very big moment for 38 Degrees. It was a campaign that really went to the heart of so many people in the country – preventing the sale of national forests to private companies. …

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  • Image © Libelul: Flickr

    An abbreviated version of this piece was originally published in the summer issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 04: Better, Connected.

    While the looming threat (and the perception of) climate change becomes more pronounced and immediate, we are seeing responses diverge in expected and unexpected ways. Recent efforts to broaden engagement on climate change, from the IPCC and US National Climate Assessment, focus on making climate risk relevant and tangible to people’s everyday lives. In the investment community, shareholder activism continues to be an influential front, with 12 US companies asked in 2014 to explain carbon asset risks via shareholder resolutions. A resolution on stranded assets at Anadarko Petroleum Corp. garnered the highest support ever for a carbon asset risk resolution (30% of the vote). …

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  • Mask wearing has become a common sight in downtown Beijing. Taken April 2014 © Chris Wash.

    An abbreviated version of this piece was originally published in the summer issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 04: Better, Connected.

    The Chinese government’s declarations of environmental concerns as first-order priorities have a spotty history in heralding imminent change, due largely to uneven enforcement on a state and local level. So one could be forgiven if the flurry of actions announced in the first half of 2014, which include statements by a government advisor that the country will set an absolute cap on carbon dioxide emissions for the first time and adopt a revised Environmental Protection Law (the first in 25 years) imposing harsher financial and criminal punishments to polluters, is viewed with scepticism. But stakeholder activity to hold the government accountable for their environmental stewardship, whether by protest or product offering, has risen too. We have seen more signs of environmentally-sparked protests, like one fought over the construction of an industrial plant in Guangdong province or another that incited a riot in Hangzhou over plans to build Asia’s largest waste incinerator project, take place this year….

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  • Flickr image by NAMU-Cube

    Between traditional news channels, blogs, and social media, it can be hard to keep up with what’s making waves in the field of sustainable development. In this roundup we aim to cut through the noise with a handful of highlights that have caught our eye.

    In his 2014 State of the Union address Barack Obama underscored the urgent action required on climate change but made no mention of controversial and divisive energy policy matters such as approving the TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. Environmental groups and energy experts question how long it is possible to sustain an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, which backs investment in clean energy alternatives on one hand but also promotes rampant drilling and mining of fossil fuels on the other.

    The Obama administration is not the only one finding itself at this energy crossroads. The uncomfortable transition from fossil fuels to renewables is playing out in a tug of war between the high-carbon lobby and more progressive companies placing their bets on the transition to a low-carbon economy. …

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  • In December we wrote about the top trends that our team tracked in 2013. If you missed them, here’s a summary to help you navigate to the main articles….

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  • The main driver for the decline in coal usage has been hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking), a process more frequently utilized through advancements in technology. Flickr image of Long Eaton coal plant by lewismd13.

    This is post 9 of 10. See next or previous.

    For over 25 years, companies have valued our ability to serve as their early warning system—to interpret emerging issues and trends in the sustainable development agenda and help them anticipate, understand and respond to shifts in the business landscape. In 2013, SustainAbility re-launched a dedicated function to regularly track and interpret “what’s next”—our Ten Trends of 2013 series is the distillation and public output of our thinking over the year.

    Every year, a number of organizations publish long-term energy forecasts. The two most recent ones were the World Energy Outlook 2013 from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and The Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040 from ExxonMobil. These reports paint a future that is more or less the same when it comes to how fossil fuels contribute to our energy future – the IEA predicts that 75% of global energy demand will come from fossil fuels by 2035 (vs. 82% today) while ExxonMobil forecasts a similar figure for 2040.

    While these robust research pieces are must reads for anyone working in the energy space, a variety of technical, environmental and societal factors make their predictions about the future of energy more uncertain than ever. …

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  • Experts feel the urgency of issues like food safety is on the increase but corporate performance is still lagging behind. Image © David W Oliver, Flickr

    What issues are sustainability experts most concerned about? How well is the private sector addressing these challenges? Which sectors are most accountable for tackling these vexing problems? After analyzing responses from nearly 900 sustainability experts in 91 countries, the recently released 2013 Issues Survey, Challenges, Performance and Accountability, dives into these thorny issues, with mixed results.

    It’s been nearly two years since The GlobeScan / Sustainability Survey explored how our international pool of sustainability experts see issues—ranging from climate change to food safety—and the urgency and corporate performance surrounding them. In 2011 our survey (Key Challenges and Industry Performance) found urgency regarding several leading issues was in a slightly downward trend, and industries received mixed reviews about their ability to manage the transition to sustainable development—with no sectors receiving high marks for sustainability performance. …

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  • Will the vital pollination provided by bees, which is currently at risk due to Colony Collapse Disorder and other stresses, be the next big eco-system issue? Image © bob in swamp: Flickr

    On December 3, I moderated WBCSD’s US Midwest meeting, a one-day conference held in Columbus, Ohio whose theme was to “scale up and accelerate the transition to a sustainable economy, in the US and beyond.” The meeting was packed with excellent speakers, panels and working sessions on a diverse set of topics, including: ecosystem services, reporting, communicating with investors, inclusive business, innovation and business leadership.

    At the end of the day I was asked to wrap up the meeting with a “Top 10 List” of the issues that stood out most for me. I ended up with eleven key words and phrases. Much as Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel’s amplifier that goes to 11 was “one louder” than most amps, my Top 10 List is “one longer” than most Top 10 lists.

    1. Responsibility. I didn’t expect this to be on my list, but it popped up several times during the day. Ohio State University President Joseph Alutto kicked off the conference by telling us that OSU has a responsibility to address sustainability in both its operations and its curriculum. One of our corporate speakers declared that it is time for the business community to step up and take responsibility for leading the transition to a sustainable economy. With most of the conversation these days focusing on the business case, it was significant to hear that responsibility remains an important motivator. …

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  • Typhoon Haiyan Near Hainan Island, China. Image © NASA Goddard Photo and Video: Flickr.

    “But let us again be clear that we are witnessing ever more frequent, extreme weather events, and the poor and vulnerable are already paying the price.”

    Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, closed COP 19 in Warsaw, Poland — which took place Nov. 11 to 22 — with these harrowing words. Figueres puts a fine point on a key element within UN climate negotiations that have direct implications for the private sector.

    We are witnessing the early stages of a new normal in terms of climate impacts, and an increasingly public discussion regarding how we best prepare, who pays for “climate resilience,” and how we address the needs of poor and vulnerable populations most in harm’s way. Addressing these challenges will require the private sector to drive innovation toward problems that are still emerging, to help people with little money to spend. …

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