COP25: Time for (Business) Action

One of many official COP25 signs seen at the conference, highlighting the “Time for Action” slogan. Photo by Katelyn Boisvert

While the decisions made at COP25 fell short of its goal to be a COP of action, many conversations and commitments were made outside of the negotiation rooms. Reports on the negotiations throughout COP25 make the past two weeks sound like an endless stalemate, when in reality, walking through the halls of the IFEMA Convention Center in Madrid was a journey filled with vibrant activity and those passionate about climate action. 

Me, visiting the IETA Business Pavilion at COP25 in Madrid

As a member of the Emory delegation to COP25, I attended side events, explored pavilions, and met with individuals committed to taking the next steps on climate. In particular, I spent the week following the role of businesses and corporate action in the climate conversation. 

With many policies and government actions at a standstill, businesses are stepping forward to do their part. Many side events that I attended had a business presence, even those that were not focused on business action. This shows how integral the private sector is in all conversations related to climate change and sustainable development. 

COP25 offered a multi-sectoral dialogue on the business world with leaders in government and non-profit sectors also contributing to the conversation about the wants and needs of business. I learned a lot about how businesses can be involved, important next steps, and the challenges preventing more ambitious action. It was inspiring to see the steps that corporations are taking to tackle climate change, and their goals for a more sustainable future. 

It is increasingly becoming clear that the private sector cannot ignore climate risk, just as much as the climate crisis cannot ignore the private sector. The private sector accounts for 60% of the world’s GDP, 80% of capital flows and 90% of jobs. This offers an incredible opportunity to create new jobs, finance sustainability efforts, and develop goods and services to become more climate resilient. 

Business leaders at COP25 discuss business ambition for 1.5°C pledge. Photo from We Mean Business

Yes, sustainable business doesn’t solve the problem on its own. There are still many very real issues with business dependence on fossil fuels, greenwashing and unsustainable investments, but there are also companies that are taking real steps towards addressing climate change. At COP25 the number of signatures on the Business Ambition for 1.5°C pledge more than doubled from 87 to 177 companies committed to ambitious climate action. 

It won’t solve the climate crisis but whatever we do solve is more than we had yesterday. So as much as the negotiations at COP25 were stuck in inaction, we cannot afford to confine the business world to the same fate. We must celebrate the small victories that occur in the private sector and support engagement and ambitious action for the future.

In the words of Barack Obama,  “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.” For me, COP25 was an opportunity to see the paths that businesses are walking and I was encouraged to see the number of companies walking down the path for climate. 

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