Business & Climate Summit

Business leaders and government representatives including the UK energy secretary Amber Rudd took to the stage last week’s Business & Climate Summit, held at London’s Guildhall.

Last week’s Business & Energy Summit in London presented a rare opportunity to gather global business leaders and national government representatives in one place to discuss climate change post COP21.

With appearances from energy secretary Amber Rudd, Christiana Figueres, outgoing executive secretary of the UNFCCC and even a video message from UN secretary general Ban-Ki Moon, the event showcased the heavyweights of international climate action.

Solar Power Portal attended both days of the event and brings you the main talking points from across the summit.

1. “Stay calm and transform on”

Coming just days after the Brexit result, uncertainty reigned over the summit regarding the UK’s place on the international stage, both in climate change terms and beyond.

Christiana Figueres, outgoing executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and tipped to become the next UN secretary general, used her speech to calm the fears of uncertainty caused by Brexit, and what it could mean for the EU’s climate change targets agreed in Paris.

“It is absolutely clear that should article 50 be triggered… the UK would have to look at all the adjustments to domestic regulation and legislation, which means that should that be the case there is going to be quite a bit of uncertainty, transition and volatility for at least about two years,” she said.

“However, let us remember that the Brexit vote was not about climate change. Quite refreshingly for all of us that have worked so hard on climate change, let me pose this: continuing and being very consistent with the UK/EU policy and steps on climate change could actually be the shred of continuity that takes us through the next two years. It could be one of the very interesting tracks of stability and continuity that we all need.

“So over the next two years my suggestion would be to use the UK proverbial 'stay calm and transform on', because the UK and EU have had very important leadership on climate change and there's no reason to change that.”

While many have claimed that environmental policy will be the first to go in a post-Brexit world, those at the summit were claiming the opposite. Sir Roger Gifford, chair of the Green Finance Initiative, said nothing had happened to change the government’s attitude while Paul Simpson, chief executive of CDP, said legislation like the Climate Change Act, carbon budgets and the cross-party consensus on climate change would continue to ensure the UK led on climate change.

This was further supported by energy secretary Amber Rudd, who made a surprise visit to the summit to calm international concerns over energy policy.

Within her speech she claimed: “Climate change has not been downgraded as a threat. It remains one of the most serious long-term risks to our economic and national security. And the UK will not step back from that international leadership. We must not turn our back on Europe or the world.”

2. “I’m going to continue to watch”

As well as making the green case for the government, despite not knowing just how blue the next PM could be, Rudd also provided an update of her view on the UK solar sector.

Responding to a question by Solar Power Portal at the event, Rudd acknowledged in a small way that cuts to subsidies enacted earlier this year had caused a severe impact on the industry and the people working within it.

“I know that has been difficult for the solar industry, but I hope that we will continue to be able to support the solar industry, but with not quite so much money,” she said.

“And I’m hopeful – the solar industry, as far as I can see, is making nevertheless good progress. Not as fast, but good progress. I’m going to continue to watch it to make sure that we do.”

With the Solar Trade Association set to release the findings of its survey with PwC any day now, which is expected to report that UK solar employment could have halved since last August, Rudd may have to do more than just watch as proof emerges of the damage her policies have caused.

3. “If you have a revolution in mind, don't antagonise”

The Business & Climate Summit was a global event and so moving away from the UK, there was plenty to come from the international figures that were in attendance. One group that always appear as a contradiction at these events are those from the oil and gas trade, many of whom are being supplanted by the rise in renewable energy.

Patrick Pouyanné, chair and chief executive of Total, was one such figure but far from fighting against the green tide, he revealed the company’s growing plans to move into the renewable space.

He claimed that it was company policy to increase the percentage of renewable generation from 8% as it currently stands to as high as 30% in coming years, claiming it wasn’t worth lobbying against a company already moving towards cleaner energy.

He said: “We are using more renewables. If you have a revolution in mind, don't antagonise. We [are part of] the revolution and this is the mission of a company like Total. Today we are a major oil and gas company and we will become I hope a gas and oil and renewable major company in the future. This is exactly what we want to do.”

4. “We're all talking about carbon pricing”

The issue of carbon pricing is one that comes up often in the UK and from all the talk at the summit the same is true of international firms. Global businesses which have signed up to the RE100 and pledged to source all of their energy needs from renewables are the first in this line, but others were happy to bring the issue forward.

During his speech, Jean-Dominique Senard, chief executive of Michelin, said: “We're all talking about carbon pricing and we all understand that we need it. I think things are clear but now it’s a matter of credibility. Creating this level playing field is easy to talk about but extremely difficult to achieve.

“We can very well use an internal carbon price but I'm telling you it's not enough…so we'd like to encourage governments to make international decisions.”

Steve Howard, chief sustainability officer at IKEA, also called for improvements and said: “There's now an outstanding number of businesses and institutions that are behind stronger carbon pricing so…however that is done, whether through taxation or emissions trading, can unlock tremendous amounts of decarbonisation.”

5. “Long, loud and legal”

It’s not just carbon pricing that businesses were calling for, with Howard pressing government for improvements across the board when it comes to renewables. In his words, businesses like IKEA want government support of clean energy projects to be “long loud and legal”.

“We want clear policy signals long term enough to allow you to invest against and they can take many different varieties,” he explained.

Following the raft of cuts to support frameworks since the general election last year, support for businesses looking to install solar or other renewable technologies has fallen, leading to the growth of the current PPA led commercial market.

Howard said that other forms of incentives were needed for businesses to decarbonise and not just for renewables, but for other technologies and materials such as electric vehicles.

“You don't need short-term luxury incentives that then are pulled away, you need well thought through, well designed incentives for the technologies that need a boost. So carbon pricing, long-term frameworks for things like renewables, and well thought through incentives,” he said.

If the findings of a report launched at the summit are right, businesses will be called on to deliver 60% of emissions pledges made in Paris in December and will need solar installations, energy efficiency measures and a whole host of other policy-led initiatives to allow them to do it. Pressure from businesspeople like Howard could still be needed to ensure government deliver these schemes.