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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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 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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  • Flickr image by Walmart Corporate

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

    Investments in renewable energy surge worldwide, driven by improving cost-effectiveness and growing demand in developing nations. However, as uncertainty around policy remains, the continued rapid pace is called into question. …

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  • Flickr image by Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia

    Rice paddies and colorful tractors are common sights in remote parts of south India. So, too, are small shanties, brightly painted shops and coconut palms. But nowadays, in some villages, solar panels have also become part of the landscape, covering shingled roofs and competing with the palms for sunlight.

    The panels are helping to catapult energy-poor villagers – who previously had no, or only very limited, electricity – into a more sustainable future. This leap to renewable energy is the result of an innovative business model that’s being rolled out to low-income communities in the state of Karnataka.

    The company behind this new model is Simpa Networks, a technology company that aims to make sustainable energy affordable to all – even those who make less than $2 a day. In particular, Simpa targets customers who have limited access to electricity and use kerosene lanterns, which can pose health and safety risks, to illuminate their small homes. It also targets customers with little, if any, disposable income, who can’t afford to buy its solar products for $200 to $400 each – even though Simpa claims its system could yield significant savings over its 10-year lifespan. …

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  • Speakers highlighted the electrification of cities as a major opportunity for cutting carbon emissions. But collaboration between city administrations and ICT intelligence providers will be critical to harmonizing electricity supply and demand.

    Last week, I attended the ‘Business Day’ event held by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) as part of World Climate Summit 2013 during COP19 in Warsaw. The mission of the day was to explore WBCSD’s ‘big ideas’ to avoid the trillionth ton of carbon. For WBCSD, the big ideas are business solutions, the core of their recently launched Action 2020. The Action 2020 framework for action builds upon Vision 2050 and considers nine priority areas, including climate change, which addressed together will bring about transformative change….

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  • Solar energy generation is gaining momentum. Image courtesy of University of Saskatchewan Flickr.

    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.

    Improving Transparency to Tackle Corruption

    Transparency International’s latest report, Transparency in Corporate Reporting: Assessing Emerging Market Multinationals, evaluates the reporting practices of 100 companies in emerging economies including China, India and Brazil. The companies assessed in the study achieved an average score of 46% in reporting on their anti-corruption programmes with Chinese companies achieving the lowest scores….

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  • Dear Fossil Fuel,

    There is no easy way to do this, so I’ll just say it: I want a divorce!

    Writing this letter is very painful for me, but the contents will not come as a great surprise to you. Our relationship has been wondrous at times, with ups and downs like every marriage. But you’ve been abusive for too long and pushed me to the limit. It’s taken decades of counselling to build up the courage to leave you, but after 300 years together I’ve decided it is time I grew up and faced the future as a responsible adult….

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  • Among the myriad challenges facing the human species in the early years of this century there is one that shows up on every political and business agenda from Pretoria to Paris, Lusaka to London, and Windhoek to Washington: how to sustain economic growth. So dominant is this discourse that those who dare to question it can be readily dismissed as lunatics, so far outside the mainstream as to appear out of touch with reality. Can’t they see? We need to create jobs…

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  • @brainstormgreen

    23 Apr 2012Mark Lee

    For five years, Fortune has sought “to gather “the smartest people we know” in sustainability from business, government, and NGOs” for what has become one of the leading events in this space – Fortune Brainstorm Green I attended each of the last three years, just returning from the latest version 48 hours ago. Having read Marc Gunther’s They Said it at Brainstorm Green this morning, I wanted to add my own honorable mentions for good content – and touch too what was not said.

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  • SustainAbility Council member Gary Kendall shares this report following a recent visit to China – in particular a portion of his journey featuring a cruise down the Yangtze River and through the locks at the infamous Three Gorges Dam.

    “That’s my new house” – my Chinese tour guide gestured toward a row of featureless apartment blocks beneath our vantage point overlooking the river – “and that’s where I used to live.” She showed me a photograph of a modest two-storey structure within the walls of the ancient city of Fengjie. It presumably remains intact, albeit more than 150 metres underwater.

    This stretch of the Yangtze – roughly 660km from Chongqing to Sandouping – is much less a river than a lake these days…

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  • 1. Transitions

    In a year that saw an Arab Spring take hold and unseat entrenched autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya (TBD on Yemen and Syria), the withdrawal of the last American troops from Iraq, a European Union on the brink of transformative change (and potential collapse), a titan of technological (and economic) innovation pass away, and the growing acknowledgement (in the form of the Occupy protests), that the entanglement of the American political and financial system is a Faustian bargain that must be actively fought and protested against, the theme of transition feels all too apt.

    So too in the sustainability field, where in a world of seven billion inhabitants and growing, the five most urgent issues on the sustainability agenda are all perceived less urgently than they were in 2009.

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  • With a dismal jobs report released in the U.S. just prior to the Labor Day long weekend – see this CNN Money article for details – the day and its moniker will be marked with a sense of irony and even despair this year by the many who fervently wish they could find paid employment. Securing work is a staggering task at present, as captured in this New York Times feature, Hope Fear and Insomnia: Journey of a Jobless Man. Greater confidence among those with jobs would be most welcome too; this economy feels a fragile thing.

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  • A compilation of SustainAbility's current and past thinking on the future of energy.

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  • Image: Oceana.org

    Oceana, the NGO which, according to its website, is the largest organization focused soley on ocean conservation, has been running a new ad campaign in Washington, DC since about the first anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon accident (mid-April). I see the posters frequently on my ride to and from work on the DC Metro. The campaign is titled What If It Happened Here?, and depicts a DH-like drilling platform fire and the consequences – oil slicks, deployed booms, oiled birds – adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument…

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  • The second in a series of blogs about what's on our radar: Germany moves away from nuclear.

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