Privatizing Climate Protection?

Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres

Yesterday marked the official beginning of UN Week in New York City. This flurry of high-level diplomatic meetings will culminate in the two-day UN General Assembly, which gets under way Thursday. International leaders are using the gathering to try and kick-start the stalled climate negotiations. At the same time, innovative businesses and nonprofits are meeting around town to consider other approaches to the climate challenge. On Monday, the moods of the the dueling gatherings could not have been more different.

The first day of the Major Economies Forum on Climate and Energy was a sobering attempt by governments to lower the expectations for coordinated climate action. The two-day meeting is bringing together climate negotiators from 17 nations that are responsible for 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. “Clearly now the focus is on post-Cancun,” the Indian environmental minister Jairam Ramesh said, referring to the year-end climate summit in Mexico. “We recognize that there is no breakthrough possible in Cancun but let’s now try to cut our losses and see what we can do after Cancun,” Ramesh said.

Business leaders were much more upbeat about the role the private sector can play in reducing climate change. At the kick-off to the business-sponsored Climate Week NY˚C, Barbara Kux of Siemens announced that “the technology to solve our climate problem is here. We just have to use it.” What is stopping these technical solutions? Many in the private sector blamed the lack of direction from international political leaders. Investor George Soros, who last year pledged $1 billion for clean energy research, told the audience “if you leave it to the governments, not much progress” will happen.

Indeed, at the same Climate Week NY˚C event UN climate chief Christiana Figueres acknowledged the difficulty international governments have had trying to create a successor treaty for the soon-to-expire Kyoto Protocol. “I have heard in business circles that the climate change conference in Copenhagen was a disappointment because it did not yield the policy clarity that had been hoped for,” Figueres said. “Governments are frankly still working that out.”

Figueres’ comments point to what many in New York this week believe is the most hopeful way forward for climate protection: Collaboration between the public and the private sectors. Crafting comprehensive carbon emissions laws maddeningly difficult–no where more so than here in the US. But addressing the threat of climate change cannot wait for politicians to agree on all the regulatory details.

At Climate Week NY˚C and the Clinton Global Initiative, which kicked off this morning, government and business leaders are meeting to search for existing areas where they can work together to fight climate change. I will be reporting on their progress throughout the week.

(Photo from The Climate Group.)