By Ché Wall…

24 May – Two very important events occurred 150 years ago. The first oil well in the US was drilled at Titusville in Pennsylvania and, on the other side of the Atlantic, John Tyndall demonstrated the physical basis of the greenhouse effect. The rest, as they say, is history. This very topical observation was made by Al Gore during his keynote at the Word Business Summit on Climate Change of the Copenhagen Climate Council, which kicked off today.

The event, attended by 700 delegates from around the world, is cited as being the last chance for business to inform the negotiation and international treaty at the December UNFCCC COP 15 meeting. To be hosted at the same venue, the COP 15 meeting will give us a new global agreement for climate change that will take over from the Kyoto protocol. For those whose businesses are provided with opportunity or risk from climate change this is clearly a big deal.

I am in attendance because my business has become increasing engaged in the space, through our collaboration with Lend Lease, around the development and advocacy of a property sector specific trading approach to emissions trading – an Efficient Building Scheme. I was also scheduled to attend London on a regular trip and, by good fortune, the dates aligned.

This is a serious get together. Speakers for today’s opening session included UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon; former US Vice President, Al Gore; Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr R K Pachauri; and global business leaders such as Chairwoman and CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooya; Chairman of Swiss Re, Walter B Kielholz; Ericsson CEO Carl-Hienric Svanberg and CEO of the China National Offshore Oil Corp, Fu Chengyu.

The sentiment of the opening day was unequivocal: climate changed has fundamentally changed the world’s balance sheet in the 21st century. Ban Ki-moon likened many governments’ continued investing of subsidies into fossil fuels as being no different to investing in sub-prime mortgages, a fundamentally flawed proposition.

Both Al Gore and Dr Pachauri called for a revaluation of our use of GDP as a measure of economic prosperity.  Created in 1939 it was meant purely as a measure of productivity as England entered the First World War.

At this time environmental resources were seen as limitless and they are ignored in our singular measure of economic health. Both promoted the creation of new rules and measures that integrate environmental externalities into our basic economic indicators.

The message was clear. The issue of climate change is critical, and companies and business groups have to now go beyond making easy glib public announcements in support of sustainability. This is a time for action as business needs to focus on the practical and the measurable.

It was also noted that those companies that do lead in this space are not representative of the industry as a whole and that an immediate challenge is to ensure the voices of genuine commitment and leadership are heard louder than those of the industry associations that continue to rally against legislation.

One industry that is showing leadership beyond a couple of companies is aviation. The aviation industry announced today some very strong commitments, including carbon neutral growth, which will apply to all its members. The reason this industry is the first to move towards strict self imposed standards is simple: it operates globally and cannot afford the confusion of different legislation in different countries.

They have driven a sector specific solution to inform governments where the right answer is. Indeed, there seems to be a growing consensus that sector based mechanisms are a natural progression of climate policy, which is reaffirming given this is the same route our work on carbon trading for buildings has led us.
Environment Ministers.

The final panel was comprised of federal government environment ministers discussing the negotiation process of the COP 15 meeting.

The mood has definitely shifted. The US is now showing leadership and China appears ready to play a lead role. These two countries account for about 50 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions so their renewed commitment made a huge difference to the mood in the room.

This is this sort of meeting that gets you back on track and refocussed about our ability to improve the industry we work in. There was no specific discussion of buildings today, although I think all the macro issues discussed so far are directly relevant to our space. Tomorrow we have an energy efficiency stream and it will be interesting to see how far others’ thinking has progressed for our sector.

Ché Wall is managing director, Lincolne Scott