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with Mr. Renat Heuberger, CEO



Select members of the Project Firefly Community used the chance to pose their questions to a leading expert in the field of climate change and emission reduction. Project Firefly's June Current Affairs Competition question is: "Would corporate support for climate change measures be a decisive factor in the run up to this year's COP21 conference in Paris?".

Alejandro Vivanco (Canada), Concordia University, Canada:

Q: Are there any restrictions that corporate organizations face should they try to promote new cultural or ethical values that better suit the environmental challenges that we are currently facing?

A: When facing these challenges, companies have to factor in the realities they are operating in. While it might be desirable to aim to change stakeholder behaviour through promoting a new set of values, companies have to consider that any change process is gradual and that it takes time for people to adapt to the new reality. People are reluctant to change. They want to be convinced and engaged with. Change needs to make sense for them. So try to involve them as soon as possible. As such, there are no restrictions with respect to promoting a new set of cultural and ethical values, as long as they are in line with the greater goal of improving the climate and with corporate policy. They might actually help to change corporate policy for the better.


Anna Lee Ali (Trinidad & Tobago), Warwick University, UK:

Q: As a continued warming climate drives sea levels higher, low lying areas face an uncertain future and perhaps no future at all. It is widely accepted that even if action is taken now to limit greenhouse gas emissions and its impact on climate change, some countries (for example those in the Pacific Ocean with more developed structures) will still be completely submerged by rising sea levels in the future.  
Given that these low lying countries are in most cases producing very little to no greenhouse gas emissions and hence are not responsible for their situation, is there any legal action that these countries can take against major greenhouse gas polluters such as the United States and China? If not, what other options are available to coerce top greenhouse gas producing nations to assist these potential modern day Atlantis type countries since they also face immediate risks such as surface flooding, saltwater intrusion into groundwater, recurrent and severe weather extremes and a collapse of their marine eco-systems.

A: Your question points at a very pertinent problem, an existential threat to some countries, such as Fiji, Kiribati or the Maldives for example. In the current legal framework, these countries unfortunately do not have any legal sway in processing big emitter countries such as the United States or China with any reasonable chance of success. This is similar to what happened with the Kyoto Protocol and the ongoing Conferences of the Parties (COP). No country can be forced to join a global climate agreement as such. There exists however a moral imperative for historic and present high emitter countries to be protagonists in setting benchmarks for global climate action. Low lying Pacific Ocean nations like the ones you mentioned have the best chance of having an impact by mobilising the masses and exerting pressure on high emitter countries by influencing public opinion through partnerships with NGO’s and by grouping together to increase their voice. At this stage, they have no legal means for obtaining any direct financial compensation from the countries that caused most of the emissions. Their best chance is to become opinion leaders for the move to a low carbon world. This can be achieved through carbon finance and emission reduction projects that can be set up in these countries for example.


Prabhat Singh (India), Birla Instiute of Technology (BITS) Pilani, India

Q: Is the decentralised grid model for solar energy being followed in Germany the future of renewable energy? Or, considering solar energy hasn't taken off despite gargantuan government subsidies, should it be considered as a great market failure and an impotent technology?

A: Solar energy is on the rise. The technology is ready and production costs have come way down. 2014 marked a turning point, where investments in renewable energy production surpassed investments in fossil fuel energy generation for the first time. Solar energy made up a great portion of these investments. I believe that the potential for large scale solar projects, like the ever present “Desertec” exists, however only in politically stable jurisdictions. Countries like the US, Australia or Spain have great potential in this aspect. However, due to the volume of investments such projects require, it is more realistic that the decentralised model will remain prevalent in the future. As such, I do not consider solar energy a great market failure, much to the contrary. It is a technology that has already come a long way and that bears great potential for the future.

Prabhat Singh (India), Birla Instiute of Technology (BITS) Pilani, India

Q: How can the financial contributions to the various international green funds be ramped up? Should corporations be taxed for this purpose, or will it lead to further evasion?

A: I believe in free enterprise and the forces of the market. South Pole Group is a company that enables its clients to seize business opportunities that present themselves in the areas of sustainability and climate change. Hence, green fund investment could best be boosted through concerted action in the form of public-private partnerships. Governments should take a bolder stance and create incentives for companies to invest in sustainability related areas. Incentives work better than taxes. Industrialised countries should set the precedence in committing resources to the Green Climate Fund (GCF). This should help build momentum and force their peers to move. In my opinion, positive action works better than repressive measures and levies. If we go down that road, climate change is stigmatised  - companies associate it not only with detrimental effects for the environment, but also with higher taxes. I firmly believe in creating opportunities around climate change, the GCF and other international green funds.


Radoslav Dragov (Bulgaria), Rotterdam School of Management, Netherlands:

Q: The legally binding agreement expected to be made in Paris will only take effect in 2020. Isn’t there a danger that there will be a rush to produce as much fossil fuels as possible before the agreement takes effect?

A: Let’s all hope that COP21 in Paris really will see the advent of a new climate agreement to curb global greenhouse gas emissions. I don’t judge the danger you mention to be very high. Many of the large fossil fuel producers and consumers are already in the spotlight. The “divestment” movement, away from fossil fuel and towards renewables is gaining traction globally. Shareholders are confronting these companies at annual meetings, handing in motions to adopt comprehensive sustainability strategies and effective measures to reduce their climate impact. The word on “stranded assets” and the “carbon bubble” is out on the streets. In this context, South Pole Group has massively contributed by pioneering climate impact assessments of investment portfolios. Companies are keeping a close eye on developments. Apart from some bad examples that may exist, my general feeling is that there might not be a rush like you describe. If any signs of such a rush should materialise, the public will know about it through the dedicated work of NGO’s, like WWF, and others. I have found that the number of people that can be mobilised through their efforts is ever increasing. This renders the operational activities of some of the biggest polluters ever more unpopular. Once investors withdraw their money, the agility of these players is hampered.  


Anna Lee Ali (Trinidad & Tobago), Warwick University, UK:

Q: Where do the people of submerged regions go if their physical home i.e. their country becomes uninhabitable? Is there any agreement in place to allow individuals to successfully migrate to other countries including the most vulnerable of these societies? If not, is any international agreement being considered in the event this occurs?

A: As far as I’m concerned, some of the affected nations, such as the Maldives, Kiribati and Tuvalu, have reached out to Australia to establish preferential migration agreements should their countries really submerge beneath the waves. The Maldives even set up a sovereign wealth fund and started to acquire land in Australia.

Q: If a country ceases to exist because it sinks beneath the waves, what happens to its mineral rights?   

A: These mineral rights remain active. Countries have the right to claim maritime territory within the internationally established 12 mile radius of their landmass. Should this landmass disappear, I assume that these historical rights remain with the countries that used to be there, i.e., above sea level.


Prabhat Singh (India), Birla Instiute of Technology (BITS) Pilani, India

Q: Have carbon credits turned out to be a convenient mechanism to allow the rich to pollute?

A: Quite the opposite. Carbon credits represent the most economic possibility to reduce the maximum amount of emissions on a global scale. Climate mitigation through carbon credits is only an additional element in most companies’ efforts to reduce its environmental footprint. It usually goes together with climate adaptation, where companies analyse their emissions and then implement measures for reducing their direct impact. This can involve lowering their electricity consumption, reducing their fleet of corporate vehicles or their business travel, and improving the efficiency of production processes. Carbon finance has already done a wealth of good in countries where projects are located. With this, I am not just referring to the climate impact, but also to the positive effects on local communities, animal wildlife and natural habitat. In many cases, carbon emission reduction projects provide valuable additional benefits (coined “co-benefits”), such as health and infrastructure improvements, scholarships, nature reserves, increased biodiversity, as well as women empowerment.


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