Focus on low carbon way to satisfy needs the quickest way forward



Posted on 04 October 2010  | 
Mexico City, Mexico – A focus on satisfying needs is a better basis for a low carbon economy than a focus on improving technologies for delivering the same goods that have met the needs so far, according to case studies delivered to business leaders in Mexico City today.

A report issued by the Low Carbon Leaders Project, supported by the UN Global Compact and WWF, will tell the Business for Environment (B4E) Conference in Mexico City that transformations in the way that needs are met would produce much greater emissions reductions than incremental improvements in existing technology.

“Low Carbon Leaders are the companies who understand that saving the climate depends on revolutionizing the current economy so that the needs we have can be satisfied in totally new ways,” says Stefan Henningsson, Director of WWF Sweden’s climate change programme and member of the Low Carbon Leaders steering group.

“These companies don’t see carbon constraints as a threat, they use it as a driver for innovation. Instead of only improving current products on the margin, the winners in the low-carbon economy focus on what service that best can meet the needs and develop solutions for that. In this way they can increase revenues while taking carbon out of the economy”.

The report Low Carbon Leaders – Transformative Solutions Leadership lists twelve examples of ‘transformative low-carbon solutions’ that can provide services in a new and energy efficient way. Some of these solutions have the potential to build inverse relationships between revenues and emissions.

Saying farewell to the tree-based book

Five of these case studies are to be outlined in detail at the conference, which is expected to go on and call on governments to produce real progress in enabling a low carbon economy at the December UN climate conference in nearby Cancun.

A typical example for a transformative change is lighting which currently – based on conventional incandescent lighting – consumes approximately 19% of all electricity production globally. By focusing on that we need, e.g. light, retailers could help accelerating a switch to efficient technologies such as Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs and LED lighting. A switch that can save 630 million tons of CO2 emissions per year globally while also avoiding wasting US$120 for each ton of CO2 not emitted. A focus on light also supports the provision of timers so that light is provided when it is needed.

Another example for providing a service that meets a need with lower climate impact is to allow people to read with lower climate impact by changing from printed matter to electronic formats such as e-books, with internet bookseller Amazon now already selling more electronic than tree-based books.

The companies gathered in B4E will remind governments that real progress in at the Cancun climate talks in December can help accelerate the up-take of transformative solutions globally.

The B4E conference, convened by WWF, UN Environmental Programme, the Mexican government and the UN Global Compact, will also hear about an application of the new approach called “Moving the sun”, using vegetables grown in areas with high solar input, such as Africa: the vegetables are grown organically without the emissions associated with fertiliser and pesticide production, consumed locally and surpluses are transported in low emission ships to fetch premium returns in retail organic markets.

Companies from different sectors are already cooperating to reduce costs and emissions in logistics. Such models of inter-sectoral co-operation can be used elsewhere to guarantee the lowest carbon emissions for a particular service provided.

“There is a tidal wave of companies, large and small, that are now doing all they can to provide society with what we need in new innovative ways that also dramatically reduce the emissions," said Dennis Pamlin, Director of the Low Carbon Leaders Project.

"Moving focus from companies as only a source of emissions to a situation where their potential as solutions providers is recognised would unleash the kind of innovation and collaboration that is needed.

“Today too little attention is given to the solutions that are available and how these solutions can be accelerated. As part of the project we launched a web platform and mobile applications, and in only in a few days during the preparation 40 high-quality solutions were collected.

"These solutions already help reduce almost eight million tonnes of CO2 annually and the aggregated potential for 2020 is more than a billion tonnes. I hope people will download the reports, visit the page and try the mobile applications. These show the passion and commitment among entrepreneurs around the world.”

The report is also likely interest to climate negotiators assembling on the same day in Tianjin, China, in the final lead-up meeting to the Cancun climate conference; it states principles and recommendations for policy makers, emphasizing the role of national and international policies to help companies make the shift to low-carbon services.

Policies for the low-carbon future to which Ministers and negotiators should pay heed include increasing research and development, agree on international action programmes to roll-out tested and proven low carbon technologies, e.g. energy plus housing, smart grid solutions, solar PV solutions, phase out fossil subsidies so that transformative solutions can compete more fairly, and tighten standards in a technology neutral fashion.


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The five winners of the 2008 WWF Carl Mannerfelt Prize. From left (standing): Nils Nilsson & Rikard Eduards; (seated): Torsten Mattsson, Bengt Steneby & Marcus Fransson
The five winners of the 2008 WWF Carl Mannerfelt Prize. From left (standing): Nils Nilsson & Rikard Eduards; (seated): Torsten Mattsson, Bengt Steneby & Marcus Fransson
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