On 13 November 2017, during COP23, cities, businesses and researchers gathered in a unique forum to discuss the implementation at scale of low-emissions solutions. Created by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UNSDSN) and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, this was the third Low Emission Solutions Conference (LESC) building the connection between a range of climate stakeholders.
The actors in the room hold one key thing in common: They are all convinced that the future needs to be low-carbon. Private companies are now committing to science-based targets, well aware that transitioning to a low-carbon economy is the only way forward. As Peter Bakker, President and CEO of WBCSD put it, referencing the motto of the COP: “The move to a low-carbon society is now inevitable, and we need to collectively work out how to do to it further, faster, together”.
Several elements made this night truly unique: the diversity of the actors, the richness of the solutions presented, the determination to take action and the frankness of the discussion.
The first striking element of this event was the mix of people. The night opened with the Mayor of Bonn highlighting the importance of building a coalition of actors. The following informal dialogue gave the floor to representatives from major companies working looking for the best ways to partner with cities to test and implement low-emissions solutions. There were also to researchers from renowned academic institutions looking to support cities in advancing their science-based policies.
There was a diversity in local government representation. After Bonn, Des Moines and Quito came on stage, the night ended with a pledge from the Mayor of Quelimane, Mozambique, who called for greater capacity building support and access to finance in developing cities. He reminded everyone in the room that “we are on the same boat” and that developing cities cannot be left behind only because they do not speak the language of businesses.
The determination and interest of all actors was clear. There were more than enough ideas to fill the time allotted. Everyone exchanged the best way to implement solutions at scale and proposed innovations to reach zero-emissions cities. Several speakers made strong statements to raise ambitions and act even faster.
Johanna Partin from the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance (CNCA) called everyone in the room to support cities that have taken ambitious carbon reduction target to be successful. Feike Sijbesma, the CEO of Royal DSM and co-chair of the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (CPLC) advocated in favor of putting a real price on carbon as the only way to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. “Why would investors invest where there is no economic incentive?” he questioned. He invited everyone to advocate with him in favor of carbon pricing, concluding: “No one of us can be successful or should call themselves successful if you operate in a world, in a society that fails.”
This statement reflects the frankness of the discussion that took place that evening. Everyone was in the room to speak their minds and have an open conversation not just about opportunities and solutions but also about challenges and obstacles. A representative from the OECD presented what he sees as the two biggest failures that prevent us from achieving our low-emission goals: The first is pushing for decentralization without providing local governments with adequate finance, and second is letting the market and prices decide where investments should be made. “We are fighting with the wrong prices and without the right financial support,” he summed up.
Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, also did not hesitate to challenge the audience. He asked private companies to stop making empty promises and start delivering on their commitments. “We need to hold private companies accountable…If you want to have a seat here, you first have to walk the talk,” he said. Answering to earlier discussions, he stated that partnerships need to go along with ambition and speed.
Many participants shared their excitement to see all those actors coming together. As Guido Schmidt-Traub, Executive Director of SDSN put it: “Bringing together cities, business and science is a winning combination”. This sort of combination is all the more needed as the issue is pressing. As COP23 Champion Inia Seruiratu, Minister of Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management of Fiji concluded: “The urgency is there. We need to act now and we need to act together. Further, faster, together.”