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Blog: “We need greater ambition on climate action – a spirit of collaborative partnership can get us there” - News

4 May 2018, 1:00 BST 5 min read

As the UNFCCC climate talks take place in Bonn, Thomas Lingard - Global Director of Climate & Environment at Unilever – blogs on the Talanoa Dialogue and how the spirit of partnership can accelerate the clean energy revolution. Unilever is a member of EV100 and RE100.

The signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 was a truly historic moment. Businesses, governments and activists across the globe came together to say yes: climate change is real, and it is happening – but we are going to act now to limit the damage and prevent its worst effects through a transformation of the global economy.

This optimism has led a momentum on climate action which has seen businesses leading the way in accelerating the transition to a zero-carbon economy, alongside cities, regions, and national governments committing to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

But this cannot be done in siloes.  Governments find it hard to act when business appears opposed to change.  Businesses cannot accelerate action without ambitious policy frameworks that signal clearly the direction and speed of travel. That’s why, as the Bonn climate talks take place, we’re calling for stronger government policies that enable businesses to lead the clean energy transition.  Only by working together will we deliver the transformation needed to ensure a climate-safe and sustainable future.

Innovation is driving rapid falls in the prices of renewable energy and investors are pulling support for fossil fuels. New research from the London School of Economics shows that all 197 signatories to the Paris Agreement now have at least one climate policy in place. The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate is showing that the low carbon transition is the only economic growth story for the future. New coalitions to end deforestation and drive transformation in food and land use are gaining traction. By all accounts, we are moving forwards.

Yet despite all good intentions, our combined actions are not taking us far enough, fast enough. As the UN starts a new facilitative dialogue taking stock of the collective efforts to deliver the Paris Agreement, we want to see both businesses and governments setting new targets and raising the levels of ambition to ensure temperature levels do not cross the 1.5°C threshold.  By our reckoning this means a net zero emissions economy by 2050.

Telling stories of greater ambition

As the UN embarks on its next phase of discussions ahead of COP, one word in particular will be in focus: Talanoa, a Fijan term for inclusivity and collaboration, will frame the dialogue as one of mutual trust and sharing of progress.

Promoting inclusivity is vital to urgently scale up ambition on climate action. The effects of climate change are felt differently across the globe, and we can only move forward collaboratively if that collaboration involves empathy.  

Under the Talanoa dialogue, participants will focus on telling stories that facilitate action. At Unilever, we too can tell the story of how our partnerships – and those of other private sector actors – are enabling us all to accelerate the transformation towards a low-carbon future.

Making business sense of emissions reduction

As members of The Climate Group’s initiatives EV100 and RE100, the latter run in partnership with CDP, we stand alongside other global businesses to accelerate decarbonization. In doing so, we are not only driving our emissions reductions – but also making bold choices that benefit our business long-term. As part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we are committed to be Carbon Positive in our operations by 2030 – supporting the generation of more renewable energy than we consume.  Through RE100, we’ve set interim targets for 100% grid sourced renewable electricity across our global operations by 2020, with 100% heat being achieved over the following decade.

 As a member of RE100, we envision a future where renewables are the mainstream choice of electricity for all global businesses, and where corporates are active participants in energy markets and policy debates. And together with others we know we can succeed. RE100 now counts over 130 global companies driving the renewables revolution.

 Through EV100, we are part of the movement making electric transport the new normal by 2030. By transitioning our fleet of 13,300 company cars to electric vehicles (EVs,) we are sending a strong market signal of demand for electric transport, helping to accelerate mass roll-out, bring down costs and make electric cars affordable for everyone across the globe.  

These partnerships enable Unilever to take action on climate change, at the same time as future-proofing our business operations. However, to enable a global change which benefits all, more stories of ambition must be told - more businesses must engage in initiatives that shift expectations and drive new markets in clean energy and more governments must strengthen their policy frameworks to ensure success.

Enabling conversations between businesses and governments

Unilever is committed to achieving the commitments of the Paris Agreement in a way that secures sustainable growth and prosperity for all.  We’re not alone. A total of 712 companies in the We Mean Business coalition have made a total of 1,181 commitments to tackle climate change. To give you a sense of scale, the market capitalisation of these businesses is $16.7 trillion - more than 20% of the entire global economy. Collectively, these companies represent 2.62 Gt of emissions - equivalent to the total annual emissions of India.   

 Yet we need everyone to help grow our momentum, to champion the role of businesses and encourage their active participation in the clean energy transition. Most importantly, we need the parties at the UN climate talks to hold each other to account for enhanced policy ambition to deliver the Paris Agreement.

The Fijian innovation of bringing Talanoa to the climate talks is a creative and much welcome development. By facilitating a platform for businesses, civil society and national governments to discuss policy barriers and the supportive regulations needed to enable clean energy markets, we can scale up ambition even further.

By engaging not only in the process of Talanoa, but in the spirit of Talanoa, I am optimistic that we will foster a new spirit of partnership to tackle climate change and shift the global economy towards a better future for everyone.

Thomas Lingard is Global Director, Climate & Environment at Unilever. He will participate in the Talanoa Dialogue in Bonn on Sunday 6 May.  Follow @thomaslingard for updates.