More than 2,000 people gathered in Vancouver last week for GLOBE 2016, North America’s Largest International Environmental Business Summit, to learn how businesses and investors are meeting the growing demand for innovations to move the world toward a low-carbon future. Business executives, government officials, investors, and delegates from 50 countries shared their views on the state of play on dozens of topics, most focused on the contributions the private sector is making and can make to adapt to climate change, meet the climate targets that 195 countries and the European Union committed to at COP21 (the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in Paris last December, and accelerate the shift toward a clean-energy and environmentally sustainable economy.
Scientists have warned for decades that global climate patterns are shifting in ways that are dangerously different from historical patterns, with some places getting stormier, others getting drier, some getting cooler, and others getting hotter. Along with those shifts has been a rise in the average global temperature that, above a certain point, would melt the planet’s permafrost, devastate small islands and coastal communities with rising sea levels, and permanently change weather and storm patterns in ways that would endanger agriculture, marine species, and the economies that depend on them. The scientific consensus has been that these changing patterns are a result of the growing volume of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere by certain carbon-heavy economic activities. And only by dramatically reducing the volume of such emissions, climate scientists have argued, will we be able to slow average warming to a point where risks to human lives and assets can still be understood, a level estimated at around 1.5° or 2°C above the current average. As pension actuary Karen Lockridge of Mercer put it, “A two-degree world might be insurable. A four-degree world would not be.”
Some damage has already been done. Droughts leading to urban migration and political instability have already contributed to outbreaks of war (followed by refugee crises). Some communities in the tiny islands of the Pacific and Indian oceans are preparing to relocate (one already has). Entire industries are at risk (how will changing temperatures in France affect the quality of its wine grapes?), and while some businesses, investors, and governments are preparing to mitigate those risks, the more entrepreneurial ones are recognizing that with such a large shift in economic forces comes the potential for large opportunities. For that reason, the theme of GLOBE 2016 was “innovation,” the search for opportunities to adapt, mitigate, profit from, or contribute to rapid changes in the global economy.
My three big takeaways from the week: Heading toward a low-carbon economy, demand is moving up, supply is catching up, and policy is lagging behind.
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