COP24 and the time to reflect on the climate

Article originally published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo

The end of the year period is, inevitably, a moment in which we are led to evaluate our individual accomplishments in the cycle that is ending and to renew our desires and outline directions for another one that begins. Coincidentally, it is in this period full of meanings that the Conferences of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) take place. Nothing could be more favorable, by the way, since the debate on the effects of climate change on the quality of life on the planet also involves reassessing conduct and commitment to objectives.

COP24, which this year takes place in Katowice, Poland, takes place three years after the meeting in which the Paris Agreement was established, considered a true diplomatic landmark. It was during COP21 that the 195 member countries of the UNFCCC objectively committed themselves to targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The challenge now is to establish the strategies needed to turn commitment into action.

The good news is that COP24 takes place after significant advances in the participation of stakeholders other than governments, such as the private sector, academia and civil society. It was from the participation of these voices that the perception grew that it is possible to achieve those established by the Paris Agreement. The common goal is to stay well below the 2O C of increase in global average surface temperature, as set out in the document. And we have technology to get there.

The Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development (CEBDS), through its associates, has been dedicating itself in recent years to making its contribution to this debate through various initiatives. One of these is participation in facilitation meetings called Talanoa Dialogues. This is an official consultation process developed by the UNFCCC with the aim of including the various sectors of society, including those potentially impacted, in the discussion on the subject.

In October, CEBDS held its own Talanoa Dialogue in Rio de Janeiro, officially recognized by the UNFCCC and with the participation of representatives from the most varied segments. The purpose of the meeting was to provoke participants with the questions that guide debates in this debate format: “Where are we?”, “Where do we want to go?” and “How do we want to get there?”. The contributions of each participant were gathered in a document taken by CEBDS to COP24 as a contribution to the discussions at the meeting.

In another initiative, CEBDS has just completed its most recent study, in which it seeks to demonstrate how companies intend to “get there” and what efforts are being made to contribute to the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Based on this criterion, an assessment was made of how companies are committing themselves in the medium and long term in terms of monitoring their emissions and setting targets. Those that already adopt internal carbon pricing as a decision-making tool were consulted, which ones are investing in emission reduction projects and how much has been mobilized for these projects.

The 38 global companies analyzed have prepared a GHG emissions inventory and have been monitoring their emissions for at least one year. Of this total, 21 are Brazilian or have exclusive data on emissions in the country. When analyzing this group exclusively, a reduction of 33% was observed in 2016 compared to 2015. In 2017, the reduction was 1% compared to the previous year.

It should be noted that most of this performance is due to changes in production and divestments forced by the economic crisis registered in the period. However, the study shows at the same time the potential of investing in technologies that result in reduced emissions.

From 2015 to 2017, Brazilian companies carried out 1,340 projects, totaling an investment of US$ 85.8 billion. Most involved the use of energy efficiency technologies, process optimization and the search for low carbon energy sources. Together, these projects were responsible for the reduction of 217.9 million tons of CO2 in the period, which corresponds to a volume equivalent to 27% of the total reduction target assumed by Brazil in the Paris Agreement until 2025.

Undoubtedly, the result is positive, but it deserves some reflections. It is worth remembering that this is a performance obtained in a scenario of low economic activity. If these investments are not continued with a focus on the long term, part of this gain may be lost in a scenario of economic growth recovery. This was made clear in CEBDS study, in which 90% of the companies analyzed have short-term goals, that is, until 2025. Few, however, have already established medium and long-term goals, which extend to 2030 and 2050, respectively.

This issue had already been observed in the study “Low-Carbon Development Strategies for the Long Term”, carried out last year by the CEBDS in partnership with the ICS, and one path indicated was the development of structured financial instruments based on the pricing of carbon emissions. The work showed that the creation of a Brazilian green bond market can be an effective financing mechanism for these projects, which no longer leave doubts about their results.

And it is based on this last fact that I return to the traditional year-end resolutions. As it happens on a personal level, it is in the alignment of our short- and long-term actions that we achieve our greatest achievements.

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