By Stephanie Powers
In light of the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in December 2015, a group of global business leaders has proposed an ambitious plan to combat climate change. Known as the B Team, this group is asking politicians from around the world to set a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050 in this year’s Paris climate agreement. This goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 bumps up the U.N. target which sought to phase out net emissions by 2070. Such a target is unrealistic in nature, but embodies the ambition necessary to achieve climate change.
The B Team argues that this ambitious target is necessary because businesses, and the planet for that matter, cannot afford the physical and economic risks of climate change. By setting a goal of worldwide net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, businesses will be motivated to embrace new investments and innovation into their business plans to mitigate these risks. One member of the B Team, Virgin founder Richard Branson, told Reuters in an interview, “The politicians in Paris need to know business is behind them taking the right decisions and they are not going to damage the world economically by taking these decisions.”
These arguments outlined by the B Team are valid. The urgency for climate change is evident in scientific research. According to the U.N., “If humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, the average temperature of the Earth’s lower atmosphere could rise more than 4 °C (7.2 °F) by the end of the 21st century.” With the realities of global warming, there is undoubtedly a growing need to find solutions regarding climate change.
By incorporating the private sector into climate change initiatives, greater success can be made in creating a sustainable environment. In a globalized society characterized by consumerism and energy dependency, it will be necessary for business practices to change for climate change to be achieved. The fact that global business leaders, like those who make up the B Team, realize the gravity of climate change and want to embrace sustainable initiatives is pioneering and commendable.
The B Team is appealing directly to government leaders to embrace a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Ideally, the international community would uphold this initiative in the Paris climate agreement, but unfortunately this target will most likely never be written in the final document. Being the first agreement formulated by countries of all backgrounds, the Paris talks will have to contend with a myriad of different views and interests. During this process, it is unlikely that a target for net-zero emissions will be upheld, as a wide number of states would have to agree on it.
The U.N. has also requested countries to submit their national climate change policies by the end of March, to be compiled for the Paris talks. So far, the European Union has already declared a target of at least 40 percent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to levels of 1990. It is obvious that the E.U. has not acknowledged the B Team’s goal for net-zero emissions. It can be assumed that most other industrialized nations will follow suit in adopting similar plans that can be described as fairly attainable, rather than praiseworthy aspirations.
One could argue that the E.U. and other states want to be realistic in their climate change plans. Achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is unlikely in a resource hungry world. Yet, it is not the reality of the goal that matters, but the motivation it will inspire. Climate change is happening and needs to be addressed. Government leaders should embrace lofty targets in hopes they will eventually be achieved. Declaring a goal of net-zero emission by 2050, along with fostering relationships between politicians and businesses, is a step in the right direction to creating a sustainable planet.