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Copenhagen Day 5: World Business Day

December 11, 2009

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Shauna’s fifth post from Copenhagen’s COP15 climate talks.

Hopenhagen globe, Copenhagen exhibit, COP 15, climate change

The Hopenhagen globe in real life. CC licensed photo courtesy Matthew McDermott.

It’s late and I’ve just walked through the Hopenhagen exhibit with its giant globe suspended above the square in front of city hall. I had to cross through a fairly thick police line to get to the square. The police were strategically placed to protect the World Business Day forum which I was attending at the Danish Federation of Industry building. The police were called in after rumours started circulating that the Climate Justice Coalition was going to try to shut down the meeting. I am not entirely clear why they wanted to shut this meeting down, but as I sat down for lunch and looked out at the wall of police, I realized that this is first time I’ve found myself on the securitized side of a police line.

I’ve organized a number of conferences in my life and facilitated many others and I was pleasantly surprised by what I experienced today. It wasn’t the stream of heavy-hitting CEO’s who spoke to the urgency of climate change (no surprise that the CEOs from the oil patch were absent), nor was it the lunch or glog that followed the closing which impressed me. Instead, it was the design, format and facilitation of the conference.

The session was moderated by BBC World News anchor Nik Gowing. Nik is a talented old-style journalist who keenly listens to others, draws links, asks good questions and projects an energy that is contagious. I don’t think there was a person in the room who didn’t feel invited to participate. While Nik was speaking, a team of graphic facilitators were artistically capturing the discussions.

I attended the breakout session that was focused on strategies to address carbon consumption. It was led by Malina Mehra, Founder and CEO of the India based Centre for Social Markets that has pioneered work on corporate citizenship, climate change and sustainability. Mehra is a confident, competent and eloquent female leader who herded diverse companies through an intensely participatory and solutions oriented dialogue.

I’ve described the format and facilitators because I think that those of us working in the NGO-civil society sector believe we have a monopoly on innovative and creative public gatherings. We tend to cast dispersions on the business sector, characterizing them as conservative and self-serving. Yet, having attended both the Klimaforum and the World Business Day, I’d say the innovations in participatory processes, the new ideas and the out-of-the box thinking about workable solutions were coming from the business forum, not the People’s Summit.

My experiences of the Klimaforum on the other hand, reminded me of the time I participated in a sit-in at my university in the 1980s. The international socialists infiltrated our ranks and forced a group of well-intentioned, naive and overtired students into an autocratic style of “patient organizing” – creating an environment of political correctness that stifled any independent or innovative thinking.

I don’t want to suggest that the People’s Summit isn’t valuable – it is. It provides an important venue for groups struggling with the impacts of climate change to meet, network and trade strategies for coping. But the declaration that is likely to emerge from this gathering will read more like a tribute to Marx than a clear and insightful prescription for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

But I digress… back to the World Business Day.

One of the surprising outcomes of the session was the fairly strong and consistent call by businesses to price carbon. It was hard to find a businessman (I say businessman because women were few and far between) in the room who didn’t want to see a price on carbon. I found this surprising, particularly since CEOs from Coca-Cola, Unilever, and Lafarge were among the participants. I also had to do a double take when business leaders called for the need for significant financing for countries in the Global South to mitigate and adapt to climate change. These calls didn’t just come from businesses with headquarters in developing or emerging markets, they came largely from western industrialized countries. What made their comments particularly welcome is that they recognized their responsibility in raising some of this financing.

Perhaps one of the most interesting developments was announced in the last five minutes of the Forum. The CEOs of Coca-Cola and Unilever launched a new initiative with the World Business Council on Sustainable Development called” Creating a Low Carbon Value Chain” for retailer and producers of consumer goods. Their hope is to promote a series of best practices in reducing carbon in the total value chain. With these powerful companies turning their attention to create real reductions in their carbon footprint, it drives consumer demand for cleaner products and creates an enabling environment for other smaller companies, like Mountain Equipment Cooperative (where I serve as a Treasurer) to apply pressure on suppliers to adopt cleaner industrial practices. Let’s hope it is a serious undertaking, rather than a one-off initiative that was conceived to score points at a business gathering in Copenhagen. Judging from the tone of their presentations, I tend to think it is the former.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. corsullivan permalink*
    December 12, 2009 1:11 pm

    I’m really enjoying these firsthand reports of events in Copenhagen, and I think the points you make in this post are especially worthwhile. Corporate involvement in emissions reduction and other environmental issues should certainly be welcomed. By way of a counterpoint, though, this blog post is well worth reading if you happen to have a few spare minutes.

    Incidentally, what on Earth is a “glog”?

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