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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership


Better together: How the private sector can scale up ambition to plug the emissions gap

Nicolette Bartlett, Senior Programme Manager, Policy

24 August 2015

To launch our series of blog posts to mark #100daysToParis, where the world will make its international agreement on climate change, we have released a joint report with Ecofys called Better partnerships: Understanding and increasing the impact of private sector cooperative initiatives. Here Nicolette Bartlett of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership explains the importance of business collaboration in combating climate change.

2015 is a critical year for climate action. The 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP21), to be held in Paris in December 2015, will hopefully see a new global climate agreement that sets in motion increased actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Whatever happens, we know that the action countries currently pledge to take won’t be enough to avert temperature increases of above 2°C. Looking at the science, if we as a society are to avert catastrophic climate change, we will need to scale up ambition and action across all sectors and actors.

With this in mind, there is growing interest in the voluntary and bottom-up activities that leaders across society, from city mayors to company CEOs, are engaging in to accelerate change. These activities have the ability to complement policy action, helping to drive up ambition and subsequently increase impact. A new class of collaboration is currently being crafted by private sector initiatives. And it is becoming increasingly clear that in the coming years these collaborations have a significant role to play in driving substantial carbon emission reductions while achieving continued economic growth (see Global Commission on the Economy and Climate’s New Climate Economy).

So, just how can business collaboration make an impact at scale? Does it really have the potential or is it just hype? Our recent report, Better partnerships: Understanding and increasing the impact of private sector cooperative initiatives, approaches this question through a ‘deep-dive’ analysis into the impact of a selected group of private-sector cooperative initiatives. By also taking a look at what the initiatives do, how they were formed, what motivates actors to be involved and what makes them successful, we find first answers and formulate recommendations to unlock their full potential. 100 days from the opening of COP21, our report shows that there is real impact in the existing level of ambition of cooperative initiatives with a significant potential for scaling up. COP21 presents the perfect opportunity to build momentum behind these initiatives and ensure they are recognised by policymakers as a valuable route to support climate action.

Five case study initiatives were chosen for the analysis of current and potential future emission reductions. The investigation further examines the barriers to, and opportunities for, scaling up their impact. We found that there are different motivations for companies to participate in different collaborations. The most common of these motivations include enhancing company reputation through being recognised as a leader in sustainability, getting ahead of regulation, costs savings, and creating new markets for products and services. The structures and scope of the initiatives recognise these diverse drivers. Significantly, as these initiatives are international in scope and have a global reach through their membership, they have a real potential to contribute to closing the emissions gap.

In fact, our analysis found that at current ambition levels, greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions from all five initiatives could reach 200 MtCO2e in 2020. While we acknowledge that this may be fairly modest in comparison to the 10 GtCO2e ‘gap’ present under current emission scenarios, our analysis further indicates that if all members adopted the ambition levels of the leaders, or initiatives expanded their membership, emissions reductions could potentially increase to 500 MtCO2e in 2020. A parallel report Climate Commitments of Subnational Actors and Businesses found a broader selection of existing initiatives, comprising business and cities, could deliver 2.5-3.3 GtCO2e in reductions – clearly significant contributions to global emissions reductions. In general, these initiatives also have the potential to deliver co-benefits, including economic, environmental and social benefits beyond avoided GHG emissions. The potential impact of this in the long term must not be underestimated.

Our report concludes with a nine-point Action Plan outlining practical actions businesses and stakeholders can take to increase the impact of cooperative initiatives. Actions include the setting of clear goals, establishment of rigorous monitoring processes, strong communications and cross-collaborative partnerships, and creating the necessary support structures. The full Action Plan can be viewed here.

The time is now, cooperative initiatives must seize this opportunity and use it to showcase the contribution they can make and clearly, and loudly, identify the support they need from business and government to make this work. Only by working together will we be able to achieve the low carbon future that the world so desperately needs.


A version of this blog first appeared on Business Green.

About the author

Nikki BartlettNicolette Bartlett currently leads on international climate projects within the policy team, including the international engagement of The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group, developing a Green Growth Platform in Pacific Alliance countries, the Climate Initiatives Database and research analysing the role that non-state actors play in driving down emissions.


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