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What’s good for the environment is good for business

By Achim Steiner
Executive Director UNEP

Fabien Cousteau has a saying that “What’s good for the environment is good for business.”Over three hundred leading financial institutions who are signatories to the Global Investor Statement on Climate Change agree.

The historic 2030 Agenda has laid the ground work for global progress with agreement on the sustainable development goals. Now the world’s leaders must have the courage to follow through on climate change; securing a credible agreement in Paris, along with the means by which to both deliver it and to mitigate the consequences already being felt.

The G20 countries produce 76% global carbon emissions and 85% of GDP. That positions them to make as big a contribution to the solution as they do to the problem The Antalya Summit providing the perfect opportunity to secure agreement on the financial policies and structures to make that happen and the stakes could not be higher: the dignity, well-being, economic development, security and stability of a population rapidly approaching nine billion people. Sixty million of them are already fleeing conflict and disaster today, so if we fail to act on the environmental issues being clearly highlighted by the scientific community, that number can only grow.

There is no silver bullet solution, nor is there time to work our way through a series of small, incremental solutions. We need strong decisive, even disruptive, action to drive the transitionto a more inclusive, sustainable green economy: not by investing more, but by investing more wisely. The infrastructure, technology and finance options are there, all that remains is to make the decision to use them.

Tackling the issues around energy and land use, which are the two biggest greenhouse gases emitters, will require the redirection of $1 trillion per year until 2050. In 2013, public financing for climate change was $137 billion and private investment $193 billion.However, successful businesses already know how to anticipate and adapt to changing markets. Entire countries can do the same if the political will and private capability join forces. For example, when Japan decided become less reliant on nuclear power following the 2011 earthquake, it took just three years for them to be able to replace half of that electricity through efficiency gains and to launch the first offshore floating wind turbine in Asia.

The difference between success and failure is still just 2%. But having spent years talking about the tipping point towards the tragedy of global warming being just 2%, this is our chance to talk about the tipping point towards the successful delivery of practical, sustainable solutions being just 2%of the GDP of the wealthiest nations.

To put that in context and to reinforce the point that this about wise spending, not more spending, the International Energy Agency has shown that the uptake of more economically viable energy efficiency investments could boost cumulative economic output by $18 trillion in the next 20 years. That is more than the combined economic output of the US, Canada and Mexico and certainly more than enough to help finance a transitioning green economy.

In the meantime, we need to adapt to the consequences, which will cost between $150-500 billion per year until 2050, and we need to look at the equitable sharing of that cost.Today Bangladesh self-finances three quarters of the $1 billion annual costs from climate adaptation, even though the average person in Bangladesh emits less carbon in a year than a European emits in 11 days.

Finding and effectively investing $150-500 billion a year is a massive undertaking, but sometimes the cost of inaction is much greater. Had we failed to take equally drastic action to tackle the hole in the ozone layer the size of North America, more than two million people a year would suffer from skin cancer and many more from cataracts, not to mention the impact on agriculture orbiodiversity.

The G20 leaders are in the best position of a generation to take ambitious decisions that will address all of this by opening the door to a new action plan in Paris through a shift towards an inclusive, sustainable green economy and the allocation of adaptation funding. This can’t be a choice of one over the other; we need both to underpin the credibility of any agreement on climate change.

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