Commentary: Governments needs to support businesses in the fight against climate change Business, and the innovation they provide, are key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Commentary: Governments needs to support businesses in the fight against climate change

Business, and the innovation they provide, are key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions


It’s easy to forget that companies consist of people who, like all of us, are faced with tough decisions every day when it comes to doing what’s best for the planet.

It’s time for all levels of government to make those decisions easier.

That means federal, provincial and municipal governments must work harder to create policies and frameworks that enable businesses to help our planet and their bottom lines.

Some city governments have already risen to this challenge. At the recent Our Cities, Our Climate event in Washington D.C., U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry championed cities as today’s laboratories of leadership, uniquely positioned to experiment with bold ideas.

In Vancouver, which the U.S. Secretary lauded for our goal of 100-per-cent renewable energy, we have pledged to become the world’s greenest city by 2020 and have already seen the benefits — on the environment and our economy. Green and local food jobs increased by 20 per cent in the first three years after we started the Greenest City Action Plan in 2010, and 20 per cent of the country’s Clean Tech companies are now in Vancouver. During that same time, we have reduced carbon emissions by seven per cent over 2007 levels.

Vancouver’s environmental leadership contributes to the strength of our overall economy — one of the most resilient in North America and one that’s forecast to grow faster than any other Canadian economy over the next five years. Research by a leading brand valuation firm, Brand Finance, shows that our environmental leadership is a prime driver behind Vancouver’s exceptional global brand, which attracts new talent, capital and business from around the world. Recent invitations from the UN, the White House, the Vatican, and global cities, looking to learn from our successes, suggest our environmental leadership will grow our brand further.

To really amplify the value of our environmental actions though, cities need businesses — and the innovation they bring — to reach their goals. In turn, businesses need government cooperation at higher levels, as their operations today — from the retail outlets of large multinational corporations to the supply chains of small enterprises — extend well beyond the boundaries of any one city.

CEOs already know this. According to the world’s largest CEO study on sustainability, in 2013 by UN Global Compact-Accenture, over 75 per cent of companies said that integrating environmental considerations into their core business operations would drive revenue growth and new opportunities, yet the majority also said they need government help to make those opportunities a reality. Almost 85 per cent of those surveyed said stronger action by governments and policy-makers, including hard measures on regulation, standards and taxation, was essential to advancing sustainability, and demanded clearer policy and market signals to support green growth. The need was reiterated in PricewaterhouseCoopers’s 2015 CEO Pulse on Climate Change report, which showed over three-quarters of CEO’s asking for clear, consistent and long-term policies around climate change from their national government.

To answer this call, and move the municipal leadership and boldness we’re seeing out onto the provincial and national levels, these CEO’s and others need to voice their opinions ahead of the UN Climate talks in Paris that begin Monday.

Major companies around the world, such as Unilever, Hewlett Packard, Walmart, Siemens and Goldman Sachs, have already lent the weight of their brands to supporting climate action ahead of the conference.

The city recently launched the Vancouver Climate Pledge with the Vancouver Economic Commission to bring the voice of Vancouver businesses too. Through the pledge, over 200 businesses since September have already called for global government action on climate change. Many of those companies have gone beyond, to also pledge their support for our 2050 goal to be a 100-per-cent renewable energy city, and to create their own goals and targets to help us get there.

We hope their voices will encourage government leaders at all levels around the world to seize this unprecedented opportunity for action. We are encouraged by visionary commitments made by Canada’s new federal government — to improve leadership on climate change, take action to keep global warming under 2 C, boost investment in green infrastructure and support innovation, among others.

Increased government support will speed the evolution of our businesses, as they continue to realize the opportunity before them — to help the planet, our children’s futures and, if they act quickly, our companies and economies. As Kerry said, citing 17 trillion dollars ready to go into clean energy investment, “climate change presents the most extraordinary market we have ever known on the face of this planet.”

Gregor Robertson is mayor of Vancouver. Ian McKay is CEO of the Vancouver Economic Commission.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann , PNG
Part of Vancouver’s District Energy System that captures heat from telecommunications equipment on top of the new Telus Garden building. It’s an example of local businesses stepping up to the plate on climate change.