Yesterday at the World Energy Congress in Montreal, Canada I had the opportunity to sit down with Yvo de Boer, the former Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). I spoke with de Boer about the future of the UNFCCC process and his new job at KPMG International.
de Boer left the UNFCCC earlier this year after four years of undeniably grueling and difficult work. His departure was widely covered in the press as another nail in the coffin for the UNFCCC process after disappointments at Copenhagen that left de Boer, among many others, “depressed.” At the same time, de Boer’s hard work elevating climate change on the world stage in international negotiations was praised. He was known to use his sharp elbows and sharp tongue to productively push countries forward.
When I asked him about the future of the UNFCCC process and what to expect in Cancun, de Boer was more optimistic than I expected, saying that he believes that “it should be possible to make practical progress on frameworks on adaptation, mitigation, technology, finance, capacity building, and forests.” Off-camera I said I was surprised he believes so much may be accomplished, especially given the low expectations for Cancun. He replied that “you have to be optimistic. It is too easy to be pessimistic.”
I also asked de Boer whether negotiations through smaller groupings of countries are a better way forward than through the unwieldy UNFCC process, to which he replied, thoughtfully: “if coming to grips with climate change were only about reducting emissions, then it would make a lot of sense to just bring the 20 or so major economies of the world together in a room and get them to focus on emissions reduction, but…the climate change agenda isn’t only about reducing emissions. It’s about adapting to the impacts of climate change as well…and then you’re talking about the 100 or so developing countries who did absolutely nothing to contribute to climate change but will be confronted with the bulk of the impacts. So…you need a larger group at the table.”
However, at this morning’s roundtable at the World Energy Congress, de Boer clarified his thinking on small vs. large group negotiations, noting that more productive progress can be made by splitting up issues and having subsets of countries work on specifics, rather than having all countries “at the table” for all discussions.
Following our discussion about UNFCCC, I spoke with de Boer about his new role at KPMG. He said that companies first need to figure out where they stand on carbon and other sustainability measures and then to respond to the risks and opportunities presented by their footprints. He stressed that “it’s clear that the international community wants to address climate change…it’s clear that sustainability is rising to the top of the agenda of governments and companies and of consumers…the environment in which businesses have to operate is changing very rapidly.” He used airlines, companies with long supply chains, and beer breweries as examples of businesses that face risks related to their carbon (and water) footprints but also face business opportunities through smart choices in responding to and reducing impacts.
View de Boer’s description of KPMG climate and sustainability services: