To solve climate change, it’s time to get business on board

© CI/photo by Miguel Ångel de la Cueva

As we mourn the devastating impact and loss of life from the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, leaders and representatives from 190 nations will soon gather in the City of Lights for final negotiations in the hope of reaching a global agreement on climate change. I am cautiously optimistic that the Paris conference will move us forward in meeting the challenges that climate change presents to our economic and global security, and to our well-being.

Governments can only go so far in addressing climate change. Lasting solutions will require involvement by all of us. Leadership from the business sector is a crucial part of the equation.

Over the past 15 years, we have seen more and more leading companies recognize that sustainability needs to be a core part of their business models, not only to improve their long-term bottom lines, but also to meet the expectations of their customers, employees and shareholders. (For a deeper dive on this subject, read environmental economist and CI board member Pavan Sukhdev’s blog on the Natural Capital Protocol.)

Private sector ingenuity and innovation are increasingly being applied to protect the natural capital that we depend on for food, water and other essential needs. Sustainable business decisions help to ensure a resilient planet because research shows that nature-based strategies, such as protecting forests and coastal ecosystems, can provide up to 30% of the solution to climate change. This is a game-changer for conservation.

The business community operates at a global level, and its sustainability initiatives have great impacts on production practices on the ground. Ten years ago, for example, Walmart — the world’s largest retailer — announced major commitments for sustainable products, sustainable energy and waste elimination. These kinds of commitments have enormous impacts up and down worldwide supply chains.

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If we are going to meet the challenges of a changing climate, we must accelerate nature-based solutions with deep involvement by the business sector. I am optimistic, because I see many companies recognizing that climate change is an economic issue — it affects sourcing, logistics and global markets. Sustainability is no longer an afterthought. It is an integral part of corporate operations and supply chains.

People working in a tree nursery in the Alto Mayo Protected Forest 
People tend to saplings in a tree nursery in Peru’s Alto Mayo Protected Forest, a project supported by Disney. (© Thomas Muller)

More and more companies that source agricultural products are looking at how climate change will affect their supply chains. Many businesses are setting ambitious goals for reducing or eliminating their carbon footprint through emissions reductions and offsets, such as Disney’s forest carbon investment in Peru. These are the kinds of initiatives that need to become mainstream if we are to protect our climate, and they need to be paired with innovations in technology and business practices that will enable low-carbon economic growth.

No matter what comes out of the Paris climate conference, the attention that the negotiations bring to the issue creates an opportunity for the business sector to play an even greater role in finding long-term solutions to what I believe is the ultimate market disruptor — climate change. Governmental regulations and policies are vitally important, but they alone are not enough.  Now more than ever, business ingenuity and leadership are needed to help secure our future on this planet.

Peter Seligmann is the chairman and CEO of Conservation International.

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Cover image: Nature-based strategies, such as protecting forests like this one in Chiapas, Mexico, can provide up to 30% of the solution to climate change — but only with the support of the business sector. (© Conservation International/photo by Miguel Ángel de la Cueva)