Q&A: The Future of Business Action on Climate Change

October 16, 2017
  • David Wei

    Former Managing Director, Climate and Nature, BSR

  • Elisabeth Best

    Former Manager, Sustainability Management, BSR

As part of our Q&A series with our experts on the past, present, and future of sustainable business, we sat down with Climate Change lead David Wei to discuss innovations, opportunities, and challenges in the field.

Elisabeth Best: What has been the single most important innovation in business action on climate change in the last 25 years? 

David Wei: For climate practitioners, the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015 is the most important development of the past 25 years. For the first time in history, countries rich and poor alike agreed to reduce their emissions and build climate resilience. This sends a strong signal to the business community.

The agreement was as ambitious a text as 195 countries could agree on, and it includes clear long-term goals that set a new international standard to hold warming well below 2 degrees Celsius: to peak global emissions as soon as possible, rapidly reduce them to reach net zero in the second half of this century, build climate resilience, and reduce vulnerability. Equally important is the fact that the agreement asks governments to enhance their commitments every five years, repeatedly creating opportunities to push the global emissions trajectory downward.

Best: What does sustainable business, specifically as it relates to climate change, look like in 2030? 

Wei: It’s only 2017, but emissions reductions in direct operations are already becoming mainstream. The business case for renewable energy procurement and energy efficiency, for example, is very strong. Leading companies are moving to new frontiers of climate action—engaging their supply chains to reduce Scope 3 emissions, assessing and disclosing the climate risks that their businesses face, and building and implementing strategies to become more resilient to those risks. 

In 2030, supply chain climate action and the integration of climate resilience throughout companies’ value chains could be mainstream sustainable business. Indeed, by 2030, high-carbon business models in energy, transport, and agriculture could be relics of the past.   

Best: What’s the biggest challenge or opportunity you see looking forward?

Wei: While our collective direction toward the resilient, low-carbon economy envisioned by the Paris Agreement remains clear, the U.S. Administration’s intention to withdraw has injected short-term uncertainty into the policy landscape, which is a challenge. However, other major economies have made their continued commitment to climate policy clear.

As the BSR/Globescan 2017 State of Sustainable Business Survey anticipated, the U.S. decision about the Paris Agreement has not changed company commitments to climate action. Indeed, climate action is warranted by a broader business case, including companies’ desires to demonstrate leadership, respond to shareholder resolutions, manage risk, address stakeholder expectations, and control energy costs. The challenge for business will be to take the broader and medium-term perspective to continue to lead on climate.  

Best: What are leading companies doing today to make a sustainable future a reality? 

Wei: More companies are engaged on climate today than ever before, and individual companies are making commitments on an unprecedented scale.

For many large companies, climate action increasingly means collaboration—no matter how ambitious these organizations are, they cannot reach their GHG emissions reduction goals without forging partnerships throughout their value chains. Leading businesses are adopting emissions reduction targets that follow a trajectory to hold warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, and they are also stepping up by engaging their suppliers to reduce emissions and build climate resilience. 

Best: What aspect of this year’s BSR Conference are you most excited about?

Wei: I’m excited about Al Gore’s opening plenary speech. I’m also looking forward to the discussion about the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit, which BSR is proud to sit on the Steering Committee for on behalf of business. The Summit will feature climate leadership from businesses, investors, cities, sub-national regions, and civil society, and demonstrate our collective impact in achieving the vision articulated by the Paris Agreement. 

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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