This year has seen extreme heatwaves in Europe, numerous and more frequent devastating tropical storms across all of the world’s oceans and a record number of destructive bush fires in both Australia and North America. Politicians may not agree on the causes, but there is no doubt that climate change represents a huge risk to economies and quite possibly an existential threat to some nations altogether. But climate change action and reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere may require re-framing as an economic opportunity in order to make progress.
For example, industrial scale sequestering of CO2 seems like science fiction right now, but the point at which this technology will become essential may be closer than we think. Developing countries are increasingly switching to renewable energy sources by constructing hydro dams, solar cells and wind turbine farms. How do we redirect funding away from polluters towards such vast projects or to many others that involve greentech solutions to solve global problems like energy, transport and food? The manner in which financial investors engage with impact enterprises requires considerable re-imagining.
Finding new approaches to carbon removal does not absolve humankind from acting more responsibly of course. Government mandated reductions in CO2 production are a starting point, but that alone may be insufficient to heal the atmosphere. The disappointment of the COP25 talks this week unfortunately illustrates that we cannot wait for governments to solve these issues. In the meantime, what can us ordinary citizens do to minimise our own impact on the planet when the problem seems so overwhelming?
In 2015, under the leadership of our former Prime Minister Helen Clarke, a working group at the United Nations delivered the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). These 17 integrated goals seek action across the many systemic issues facing the world, calling for promoting economic prosperity, human health and especially protecting the environment. If you work in government, you will probably have some awareness, as this ambitious programme has slowly percolated within the public sector. But the general public have precious little understanding of this initiative.
So in order to continue to be ambitious and remain relevant, the project needs wider exposure. The SDG provides a framework by which we can all work towards a cleaner and fairer world. At a University of Auckland talk earlier this year, Clarke herself described the SDGs as, “a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future”. So 2020 is the start of the United Nations “decade of action” now aimed at accelerating progress on the sustainable development goals. There’s never been a better time to think about how business can get involved meaningfully.
The SDGs also provide corporations with a basis to improve how they operate in society generally, especially in mitigating impact on the environment. More and more businesses are beginning to accept that social and environmental concerns must be part of a sound business strategy. This is critically important because it is becoming clear that governmental organisations alone have insufficient resources to aid the transition to a greener more equitable economy. It will require partnerships between public sector and private finance to find a new way forward and in particular a huge boost in impact investing globally will be needed.
At GeniusNet, we want to play our part and have some interesting developments in the pipeline. Watch this space!
Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a recently exited co-founder of New Zealand based technology venture iwantmyname, a co-founder and director of Creative Forest and principal at GeniusNet Research. You can follow Paul on Twitter @GeniusNet or sign up for a free weekly digest of startup, tech and innovation related events curated by him through New Zealand Startup Digest.