Important discussion-points in the run-up to Cop28, beginning in Dubai later this month, concern the practicality of solutions proposed by participating governments, especially in the context of the private sector, and the involvement of youth in building and sustaining a climate-focused future.
In fact, Cop28 will be of particular interest on these counts.
For the first time, governments will take stock of global efforts to reduce emissions based on commitments made in line with the Paris Agreement. The Global Stocktake will therefore present itself as an opportunity to revisit some of the solutions proposed in the past and enable more pragmatic ones for the future, to be proliferated and implemented by both the public and private sectors.
For example, within the private sector, there are several industries whose thresholds on carbon emission reduction do not offer any detailed guidance on how to apply them in different parts of the world.
Western standards or thresholds may result in different outcomes for companies operating in the West from those operating in the Middle East or the Global South.
This could be rectified by countries creating their own standards for industries to measure and account for emission reductions. There is also a component of industry classification. Some industries may not be able to report on certain aspects, but they are left with a mandate to do so and inadvertently resort to projections.
An alternative would be to have a different caveat to reporting emissions than just a blanket requirement that is industry-agnostic. It is imperative to have that flexibility, as it allows industries operating in the region to report their performance accurately and adequately. These caveats could also include local, geopolitical and other factors that could have an impact on a private sector organisation’s effort to reduce emissions.
The private sector would also welcome alignment in sustainability taxonomy.
Usually, taxonomies are local. One understands the need to keep it local as it is designed based on the prevailing conditions of a particular country. However, integration is essential among these taxonomies to avoid the risk of market divisiveness and confusion among those who use taxonomies to make decisions such as regulators and investors.
One can imagine how this would play out as a deterrent if the sustainable activities of one business would be accepted in one way and another jurisdiction’s taxonomy would be interpreted in a different manner. This does not help any stakeholder in the long run.
This is especially relevant when discussing the role of youth who are trying to make sense of sustainability from their perspective.
In this, too, the private sector could help. Companies could collaborate with educational institutions to encourage field trips where sustainable business practices could be demonstrated, or have industry experts give lectures focused on the myriad ways in which youth could contribute to building sustainable businesses and to this end even sustainable economies.
On the other hand, youth could provide insights into the latest sustainability trends, innovations or technologies through reverse mentorship programmes. This would give the private sector fresh perspectives on pressing issues.
The private sector could also sponsor youth to attend international conferences. Building capacity among this demographic is non-negotiable. Research could be funded at both undergraduate and graduate levels focusing on critical areas in sustainability, or funds could be set aside for budding entrepreneurs with innovative sustainable business ideas, providing them a safety net to take risks.
Cultivating a young demographic as a future workforce will contribute to private sector resilience. With the intervention of digital technology and AI, youth are most suited to blend the best of the digital world and the sustainability requirements of a business.
We often hear youth share their many ideas but rarely find platforms to present and implement them. The private sector can create such platforms whether it is youth councils that have a say in the environment policy of a business, or consultations where young professionals can give feedback on proposed sustainability initiatives.
By embedding these practices into the day-to-day operations of a business, the private sector can present itself as an enabler of a sustainable and climate-ready future.
Further, Dr Sultan Al Jaber, the President-designate of Cop28, once said: “The world needs a ‘business mindset’ to tackle the climate crisis.” This presents a strong opportunity for the private sector to share its best practices in business operations that could be replicated to achieve carbon emission reduction goals.
These could involve creating research and development labs within environment ministries to create innovative products with lower carbon footprints. The private sector invests in plenty of capacity-building programmes for its employees, and this process could be replicated in government agencies to further build the skillset of their staff to deliver effectively on their mandate.
Companies also invest in digital transformation that leads to operational efficiencies and transparency in the way the business is done. This could be replicated in other non-private organisations as well.
There is no doubt that all stakeholders – including governments, the private sector and youth – who are convening at Cop28 are aligned to the goal of protecting our planet. But there is much work to be done to create conditions for a healthy planet that are not only meaningful but lasting.
An effective combination of practical solutions and accelerated implementation that the private sector could facilitate in partnership with the government could be the antidote for the situation that we find ourselves in.
The future of the only home we know can demand no less.