Collaboration on climate change: how to avoid ‘death by initiatives’

This week I attended an engaging B4E event in London centered round the question: how to help address climate change and keep the global economy growing through energy productivity. For those of you new to this term, it basically means getting more GDP out of your energy. It’s attractive to business and governments because they will be rewarded financially for doing the heavy lifting: we are promised trillions of dollars in GDP and avoidance of up to 6.5 gigatonnes of GHGs.

One thing stood out for me. With the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris rapidly approaching, calls for international collaboration and action are growing louder, and I was thus pleased to see an entire panel discussion on this. My burning question to the panel was that with so many initiatives popping up, how to avoid ‘death by initiatives’?

Tom Delay, CEO of Carbon Trust, pointed out that initiatives need to be thought through and cited an example of a major off-shore wind program in the UK. When asked to join, investors stood ready will millions of pounds, but if then the government is not ready, investors will drop out and won’t be coming back any time soon.

Getting businesses to collaborate requires finding an area where their shared interest is greater than their competition. This is where Smart Freight Centre steps in, for example, in creating a global framework for logistics accounting together with business and other stakeholders (Global Logistics Emissions Council). Kornelis Blok from Ecofys shared an interesting study on Better Partnerships involving businesses with a CO2 reduction aim. What struck me from this is the clear quantification of (expected) impacts and potential for scale of the 5 case study partnerships. Freight wasn’t there so I’d like to suggest adding the US SmartWay program that has similarly made impacts appealing to business and the public: over 50 million tonnes CO2, $16.8 billion dollars in fuel savings that equate to taking over 10 million cars off the road for a year.

Kateri Callahan explained how the Alliance to Save Energy, which she heads, is trying to align initiatives on energy efficiency in the US and is now going global. We see similar efforts elsewhere, such as We Mean Business that brings together leading global business networks on a common climate agenda, the Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT), and finally for freight, the Global Green Freight Action Plan to align existing green freight programs.

What these “umbrella” initiatives (should) have in common is a clear vision that partner organizations buy into, while leaving them free to determine how to contribute to that vision. One word of heed: we must avoid creating umbrella’s on top of umbrella’s with too few people trying to actually stop the rain (rain metaphorically representing GHGs here). Collaboration is great, as long as it does not stand in the way of real action.

11 September 2015
Sophie Punte, Executive Director

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