9 December 2010 – Former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Yvo de Boer is still hopeful that a reasonable agreement can be reached at the Cancun climate change talks, just days before they close.
In a telephone interview with The Fifth Estate on Thursday morning from Cancun , Mr De Boer said: “My hope is that we can see the main elements of an agreement hammered out here in Cancun and I am still hopeful that this can happen, and then in Durban South Africa next year that this an turn into a legal instrument.”
The interview ranged across a number of issues on the global stage.
On Australia, Mr de Boer praised the work of Rudd Government in signing the Kyoto Protocol and said it was clear that perhaps ahead of many other countries it was critical for Australia’s interests to achieve an international framework for emissions reductions.
In the US he said the growing backlash against climate action, especially in the United States was worrying.
On the built environment there was growing acceptance world wide that the built environment could offer quick low cost emissions cuts, albeit not without its problems.
But for major global corporates, he said there was no doubt at all that issue of sustainability was climbing fast up the strategic agenda. And the drive was not always about climate change.
Mr de Boer, now KPMG’s Special Global Advisor, Climate Change and Sustainability, said in a preview of a new survey of business attitudes to sustainability commissioned by KPMG and undertaken by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit, that for major businesses, sustainability was a growing and serious issue.
Major corporates, Mr de Boer said, could see major challenges stemming from energy prices, energy security, the scarcity of resources including water and the demand for corporate responsibility in general.
“We were very curious to find out if the business community is continuing to take climate change seriously or less seriously under the current circumstances [of the global financial crisis] and the slow movement in the international negotiations, so we engaged the Economist Intelligence Unit to interview a large number of companies around the world and get their view.
“And what we found is that corporate sustainability or its lack is rapidly emerging as a strategic issue and is rapidly moving up the [scale of priorities].”
According to Mr de Boer 62 per cent of corporates surveyed have a core sustainability strategy compared with over half in 2008. A further 11 per cent have action plans in development.
“The findings of the report are the important general message that yes, climate change and sustainability are rising up the agenda and companies are using sustainability as a strategic lens to focus their attentions over their concerns,” Mr de Boer said.
This indicated that their concern was “not just about climate change alone and not about global ambitions alone,” it was about things that are much closer to the operations of the companies – concerns about resources security.
“Energy prices were very high before the economic crisis and companies are expecting them to rebound. We are already seeing conflict about access to resources and scarcity of precious metals, rare earth and water.
“These are issues that companies seem to be coming to grips with, even though the political agenda is moving slowly.”
Companies in general were “crying out for clarity” on the political situation, he said.
The built environment
In more general terms, the built environment had also risen up the agenda of concerns.
“The built environment is seen generally around the world as a huge challenge and an opportunity given that it accounts for a significant share of global emissions and the opportunity to reduce emissions, improve efficiency and reduce materials [use],” Mr de Boer said.
Mr de Boer said it was also clear that the opportunities came with some challenges, namely that the owners of existing buildings would pay for improvements but that the tenants would reap the benefits of lower costs.
For Australia, he said, it was clear that an international framework was critical to “safeguard the international competitiveness of your own country”. Especially in relation to Australia’s connection the Asian market, he said.
“For a country like Australia it is very important that all countries engage and that actions in one place do not displace actions in another place.”
In the recent past, said Mr de Boer, Australia had shown leadership.
“Everyone was very happy to see the Rudd Government return to the negotiations and ratify the Kyoto Protocol and the international community is watching to see what happens to the [debate] on whether there will be taxation based carbon reduction system or trading.
What is Mr de Boer’s preferred method?
In the end, you need the regulation, trading and taxation to have an impact on the various sectors of the country and economies.
Trading works very well for large stationary sources of energy and taxation works well for households and vehicles he said.
Education is needed
Was Mr de Boer worried about the backlash to climate change, in the US in particular?
“I’m worried about it. At the same time, and maybe this is wrong of me, but I feel thee is a very strong scientific case out there and if we make a better case of it we can persuade others that this is an issue that can be taken seriously.”
“I don’t think there is a world wide trend [towards scepticism]
“I think it’s true that in certain parts of the industrial world scepticism seems to be on the rise But people in the developing counties are taking climate change increasingly seriously.
“More important,” he said, “is to rebuild confidence to invest more in the field of public education and information.”
Yvo de Boer – Biography
Yvo de Boer is KPMG’s Special Global Advisor, Climate Change and Sustainability. In this role he is responsible for thought leadership on strategy development, driving the development of KPMG’s Sustainability Service and acting as KPMG’s global ambassador.
Prior to joining KPMG, Mr de Boer was Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), the body responsible for a multi-lateral response to the climate change challenge.
Before joining the UNFCCC, Mr. de Boer was Director for International Affairs of the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment of the Netherlands, responsible for international policy, both in the context of the European Union, as well as broader international cooperation.
He has also served as Deputy Director-General for Environmental Protection in the same Ministry, as Head of the Climate Change Department and has worked in the fields of housing and public information. Early in his career, Mr. de Boer worked for the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UN-HABITAT).
Mr de Boer has been involved in climate change policies since 1994. He has helped to prepare the position of the European Union in the lead-up to the negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol, assisted in the design of the internal burden sharing of the European Union and has since led delegations to the UNFCCC negotiations.
He has actively sought broad stakeholder involvement on the issue of climate change. To that end, he launched an international dialogue on the clean development mechanism and has partnered international discussions with the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, aimed at increasing private sector involvement.
Mr de Boer is Professional Fellow at the University of Maastricht and a Member of the Board of the Centre for Clean Air Policy.
Mr de Boer has served as Vice-President of the Conference of Parties to UNFCCC and as Vice-Chair of the Commission on Sustainable Development. At the time of appointment, he was a member of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, the Bureau of the Environment Policy Committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Advisory Group of the Community Development Carbon Fund of the World Bank.