Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Cancun Communiqué

As business leaders, we are used to making decisions on the basis of projected risk and established scientific fact, at this point in time we cannot afford to ignore the undeniable impact of climate change on global populations, natural resources, the economy, and on our businesses.
 This week Doug Crawford Brown signed up to the Cancun Communiqué in his capacity as executive director of 4CMR.  The Cancun Communiqué is an initiative of the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders’ Group on Climate Change, coordinated by the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership.  The Communiqué is a statement agreed by business leaders to the effect that the adoption of an ambitious, robust and equitable global deal on climate change needs to be agreed in Cancun, a deal able to respond credibly to the scale and urgency of the crisis facing us today, and follows similar initiatives designed to coincide with previous United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP) events.  

The Communiqué states the need for progress in a number of priority areas, such as binding targets, finance, technology transfer, agreement on reducing emissions from deforestation, forest degradation, and forest management (REDD); and, monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV).  In addition, these priorities should be delivered within a framework alongside a parallel mitigation strategy focusing on GHG reduction opportunities in specific sectors, with agreements in five key areas of action:

1. Energy efficiency across all sectors: Robust financial and policy support for energy efficiency measures in buildings, transport and industry.
2. Low carbon energy systems: Strong policy support and fasttrack funding for low carbon energy sources, infrastructural development, and research, development and deployment in buildings (both nonresidential and residential), industry, and transport.
3. Emissions capture and storage: Greater financial and policy support for the scale up of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies.
4. Emissions from other greenhouse gases: Increased effort on tackling other GHG emissions such as methane, nitrous oxide, and Fgases and the impact of black carbon.
5. Urban planning, land use management and land use change: Addressing the carbon emissions impact of landuse both in terms of urban and rural environments.

The question remains about whether it requires a legally binding global treaty or if there are other types of agreements that will produce the desired aims of the Communiqué.  The real advantage of binding treaties with fixed targets is the clarity of purpose to a common objective without feeling that any competitive advantage has been given up to any carbon free-rider countries.  The real disadvantage is that getting agreement by blocks of countries with very different objectives is going to be really difficult.  The alternative is to mobilise those that share the need to action as widely as possible – California rather than the USA, the EU rather than the globe, business leaders rather than political interests – others will catch up quickly enough when it becomes clearer it is in everyone’s interest. 

The Cancun Communiqué has value not because it endorses one type of agreement, but because it acts as a clear statement of specific climate change action priorities, and the importance of agreement on the implementation of these strategies, particularly within the global context; however, it is not limited to a specific type of agreement or target but rather it suggests that COP 16 (the latest political arena) is one arena in which climate change is to be tackled, and it is in other arenas (business leadership, academic leadership, etc.) that the momentum for change continues to be pursued simultaneously.  There needs to be action on all fronts (hence the need for agreement in Cancun) but if action stalls in one arena, there are plenty of other opportunities to provide leadership and momentum for action. This opportunity for momentum on climate action is just one of the reasons why 4CMR, and 250 of the most powerful corporate leaders in the UK and USA, have signed the Communiqué.  To download the Cancun Communiqué, click here.


  1. Hi Paul,

    Reading this article and the related Communiqué, I was a little disappointed that the same issues seem to have been discussed again and again in other agreements.

    I was wondering if you would mind giving your opinion on what (if anything) you feel is new or encouraging about this one.

    Also do you see a benefit of countries or companies signing up to rather broad future aims, as our Government did with the Climate Change act, that are more guide than master?

  2. Excellent questions!

    First question: I think the content of the Communiqué is about right as a first step, but it is a first step similar to the content of previous Communiqués, but only a fraction of the recommendations have been implemented, and action is required with more and more urgency. It reminds me of the expression "the need for joined up thinking" that is true, but has been identified as a need before the 1970s.

    Question 2 is difficult. I see signing up to a set of aims, setting targets and developing strategies as a way of thinking about the actions that need to be taken. I see multilateral, binding agreements that organisations and nations take as a priority as the ideal agreements. I also recognise that this is not going to happen, so what alternatives do we have left - set targets and try to meet them and name and shame those that do very little? Not very ambitious, I agree, and I accept it only as a minimal start. Our grandchildren are going to be ashamed that this was the best we could do, and we didn't even do this!