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Climate of opportunity

Updated: 2014-08-20 17:12
By Simon Zadek (chinadaily.com.cn)

On September 23, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, will host a leadership event in New York intended to spur action on climate change. The summit's emphasis will be that action is not only necessary for the common good, but a smart decision to advance the self-interests of both nations and business. Making this point will be hundreds of political, business and civil society leaders from around the world, who will renew their commitments to meet the climate challenge with practical actions that will enhance their country's economic prospects, their citizens' quality of live, and businesses' bottom line.

Two high-profile economic research initiatives will provide compelling empirical support to the Summit's central message. The first, "Risky Business", was launched earlier this year by co-Chairs Michael R. Bloomberg, businessman and former New York mayor, Henry Paulson, former US Treasury Secretary and long-time friend of China, and financier Tom Steyer. The report focuses on the costs to the US of not acting on climate, suggesting that up to half a trillion dollars worth of property is at climate risk this century, that up to 70 percent of major parts of the US's agricultural crop are at risk from climate change, and that labor productivity, the single most important driver of prosperity, could be significantly damaged by unmitigated climate change.

The second initiative is the Global Commission on the New Climate Economy, due to report in early September in advance of the UN Climate Summit. The Commission is chaired by ex-President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, and has been developed through collaboration with world-leading research institutes, including Tsinghua University's Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy, and with guidance from an eminent group of economists, including Fan Gang, professor of economics at the Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and director of China's National Economic Research Institute.

The Commission's forthcoming report will focus on the economic opportunity of addressing climate change. It will highlight the challenge's catalytic effect on clean technology, new business models benefiting from a "circular economy" (waste-into-value) approach, market opportunities for first-moving businesses and nations, and co-benefits to managing climate such as reduced air pollution and improved land use and food quality.

China's business community, encouraged by national and local government, is awakening to the green opportunities opened up the world's commitment to addressing the climate challenge. The China Entrepreneurs Club's Green Companies Summit, held on Earth Day each year and now in its seventh year, is a celebration of the environmental credentials of leading Chinese businesses and international companies operating in China, backed up by a published, rigorous and quantitative, green business ranking. The most recent Eco-Forum Global hosted in July in Guiyang included an eco-product market place that revealed the breadth of environmentally-friendly products and services now on offer in China; many developed and sold by Chinese companies. Last year, at Tshingua School of Economics and Management, I co-developed and ran China's first course on "business performance and sustainability", drawing on the experience of such companies as By-Health, CreditEase, the Industrial Development Bank, and the People's Insurance Company of China, as well the Chinese practices of international companies such as Flextronics, General Electric and Volkswagen.

China's leaders clearly see the dangers of not addressing climate issue, the challenges in getting it right, and the upside opportunities of leading the way. Chinese policy is creating the right business conditions, including ambitious carbon targets, the seven pilot carbon-trading markets, and major public expenditure on environmental rehabilitation. China has led the developing world in investments in wind, solar, biofuels, biomass and waste, geothermal, marine, and small hydropower. Clean-energy investment originating from non-OECD countries soared from $4.9 billion in 2004 to $72.6 billion in 2012, accounting for almost half of the global total, of which China has been the dominant player, with $233 billion invested in renewable energy since 2004.

China cannot become green overnight, and has profound environmental problems that have to be solved for sustainable progress to be made. Yet as the UN Secretary General's Climate Summit approaches, there is no doubt that China's experience and ambition can and should be a keystone of any global leadership action in addressing climate.

Dr Simon Zadek is a visiting scholar at Tsinghua School of Economics and Management, and a co-Director of the UNEP Inquiry into Design Options for a Sustainable Financial System. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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