5 December 2012

Africa: Let's Aim for a 'Pathway to Prosperity' At Doha

Photo: Andrew Vlad/COP18
A session at the United Nations COP18 summit in Doha, Qatar.

opinion

As heads of state have pushed the target date for a new international climate treaty towards 2015, this Doha conference has become sort of an intermediate COP.

The main purpose is to 'negotiate how to negotiate' towards a treaty by 2015 that in itself goes into force in 2020.

Despite great admiration for all the dedicated and willing UN officials, a growing part of our population (especially the youth - tomorrow's leaders and workforce), climate scientists, sub-national governments and pro-active businesses, are saying we do not have the luxury of such time scales.

Perhaps one of the design failures of these global political processes is that these are called climate negotiations and with the current political climate they turn into a process of give and take, and endless discussions on how to divide a cake of ever diminishing value.

Rather we should rename the process "climate collaboration", aimed at creating value. And the good news is that beyond the - urgently required - carbon reductions, a largely unlocked potential of value is waiting to be explored and harvested.

Many, if not all, sustainable innovations not only reduce our carbon footprints, but also reduce our energy bills and most of all have the potential to improve people's lives (a stunning win/win/win) by making the buildings and cities where we work, live and play more comfortable, productive and safer at the same time.

HOW ABOUT A 'PATHWAY TO PROSPERITY"?

Thus we might be better off if we look at 'COP' not as working toward a low-carbon pathway, but rather as a 'Pathway to Prosperity' (P2P), certainly something that across the world all of us are trying to find in these challenging economic times.

This brings the goal beyond discussions about the targets that nations should be aiming for with regard to resource efficiency and carbon emissions, and towards an exchange of ideas about what the private sector and regions and cities can do and are doing toward this end.

It may create the opportunity to push the action agenda forward and talk about specifics such as urban infrastructure, smart buildings, solutions based on new technology and intelligent networks, and the tremendous potential that lies in public-private partnering.

As we continue to measure progress based on GDP, progress in the global negotiations track will remain cumbersome (as there is so little extra GDP to be identified and divided!).

Once we mirror objectives and progress on what really matters, i.e. quality-of-life, social equity, and longer-term return on investment, we may have the recipe for acceleration.

Though we are at a point in which heads of state and national politicians are struggling to agree on anything, serious strides are already being made by business and sub-national governments. And that is one issue I hope to focus on this week: the extraordinary momentum in the private sector where best practices are becoming common practices.

Harry Verhaar is senior director for energy and climate change for Philips Lighting. This blog first appeared on The Clean Revolution.

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