Kathleen Rogers and Jigar Shah: Moving capital and winning the debate on climate

Disasters from climate change are becoming more frequent and more severe – consider this year alone, with the devastating flooding in Pakistan, the Russian heat wave, an incredible ice chunk calving off of Greenland – and New York’s hottest summer on record.

Governments are becoming exhausted dealing with these impacts and realizing that adapting to a changing climate will be difficult and expensive. There is no scientific debate that every major ecosystem in the world is declining. But we are not winning the policy debate, as we somehow have to convince people that these impacts affect them personally. It’s now or never to win the climate war and we need a new approach.

We need to shift the debate away from a singular focus on carbon dioxide and back to something that affects us all personally. Issues like the rapid depletion of our natural assets, access to energy for the poor, increased jobs and economic development. We all want more comfortable homes, lower fuel bills, local jobs, fewer polluting coal plants, less reliance on foreign oil, cleaner air and a world to pass on to the next generation. These values will help us win the debate.

As the failure of the Copenhagen climate conference proved, policy is necessary but not sufficient. A new, complementary and different skill set is needed in addition to traditional methods – an investment in the tools to move capital not just lobby for votes.

We already have the technology. – nearly 50- percent of today’s emissions can be profitably offset utilizing current methods. We also need to increase our green investment to create a level playing field. – there is $550-billion currently in annual fossil fuel subsidies and an extra $550- billion needed in green capital investment.

As we have seen in Copenhagen, governments that are defined by their national borders – that the environment does not recognize – cannot do this alone. We need new models of leadership whose only agenda is that of the planet and can look at global economic responses to this opportunity. As businesses have played a significant role in creating this situation – business must take responsibility for driving positive change at the speed and scale that needs to happen in the world.

Earlier this year the Creating Climate Wealth conference in Washington brought together several hundred of the world’s top entrepreneurs to discuss impediments to investment in solving climate change. And at BusinessClimate 2010, we re-convened this discussion as part of New York Climate Week. It is these types of groundbreaking events gathering new visionary voices that will bring about the new models of climate investment we need.

This process must start by transforming our organizations to not just look at how we have less negative impact on the environment – but instead how we can add value to our natural world. Fortunately the technology for transformation is already there – we just need to help break down the barriers to start letting capital flow to get thriving marketplaces to scale change.

We can actually meet a goal of saving 17 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2020, with today’s technology and today’s entrepreneurs if there were only a level playing field. Then we can reassess how to continue meeting our emissions reductions by 2050.

There are immediate things we can do to make a difference. We needn’t fear the economy either. Investments in green are still strong and investments in solving climate change will pay off in terms of emissions reductions and wealth creation. We need to remove fossil fuel subsidies. We need to transition away from monopolies in electricity and energy distribution. Across the economy there are climate change solutions that will enable consumers, and businesses to save money, create jobs and reduce our impact on the environment.

This is the opportunity of our lifetime to create a new approach to sustainable wealth that also puts a value on our natural assets and creating the conditions that will mean all businesses can profit from driving down emissions.

Kathleen Rogers is president of Earth Day Network. Jigar Shah is CEO of Carbon War Room.

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