COP28: How business & philanthropy are redefining climate action

Leadership

This year’s COP28 climate conference in Dubai marks a noteworthy evolution in the global dialogue on climate change with the introduction of the Business and Philanthropy Climate Forum.
A view of Abu Dhabi from the Adnoc Headquarters on November 2, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Andrea DiCenzo For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

This inaugural forum, running parallel to the main conference, represents a significant step in engaging a wider array of stakeholders into a sphere traditionally reserved for government entities in the fight against climate change. It underscores the growing recognition of the necessity for diverse perspectives and resources in addressing global environmental challenges.

Challenging the conventional narrative that often pits activism against capitalism, the Forum, led by Forum chair and social entrepreneur Badr Jafar, aims to break down barriers hindering progress on climate issues through engaging leading business and philanthropic minds. Jafar advocates for a paradigm shift towards “actionism,” underscoring the pivotal need for both business and philanthropy to harness their dynamism, capital, and action networks. “Governments will always lead in overseeing responses to climate change. However, this doesn’t excuse the private sector; on the contrary, business has an equally, if not more important role to play in helping the world meet its climate and nature goals,” says Jafar.

Jafar’s vision extends far beyond rhetoric with his focus on driving global leaders towards concrete climate actions and the amplified impact achievable when philanthropic capital is combined with business or public sector capital. In a recent Q&A, Jafar discussed with me the vital role of public-private partnerships, entrepreneurial innovation, and collaboration in tackling the climate finance gap.

As the inaugural COP28 Business and Philanthropy Climate Forum marks the first time business and philanthropy has been included within the official COP agenda, how do you hope this impacts the broader global climate action agenda?

The climate narrative has long been seen through the prism of, activism equals good, and capitalism equals bad. Whether you think that is fair or not, the reality is that this kind of adversarial thinking doesn’t get us anywhere nearer to solving the problem. That is why the COP28 President, Dr Sultan Al Jaber, has called for a new paradigm based on the concept of actionism, which embraces the dynamism, capital and action networks that business and philanthropy can provide.

Ultimately, the Forum is part of a broader effort to enable business and philanthropy stakeholders to move beyond pledges and declarations and into the much more important work of sustained action and implementation.

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Public-private partnerships (PPP) have been instrumental in achieving positive climate contributions and net zero goals. How can businesses more effectively leverage their innovation and green skills within these collaborations?

Public-private partnerships can be an attractive way for businesses and governments to collaborate, and they allow government entities to draw upon the private sector’s expertise, operational efficiency, innovative thinking and financial resources to deliver projects at a scale and on a much faster timeframe than they otherwise could.

PPPs have been hard wired into the UAE’sUAE national economic strategy for decades, and they will likely be central to enabling us to meet our net zero targets in the future. PPPs are also enabling much-needed investment in climate-smart infrastructure in emerging economies around the world.

However, what I think PPPs really demonstrate is the power of blending capital and capabilities across sectors, and finding new ways to scale up these types of creative and blended approaches is high on the agenda of the COP28 Business & Philanthropy Climate Forum.

The Forum aims to foster entrepreneurial innovation to address critical climate issues. What steps need to be taken to further mobilize and support entrepreneurs in this mission?

I am not alone in believing that the private sector holds the greatest potential to accelerate the implementation of the world’s climate and nature goals, and that innovators and entrepreneurs will be integral to realizing that potential.

We know exactly what it takes to cultivate entrepreneurial ecosystems because we have seen it work in many different industries and geographies. We need to channel more of that entrepreneurial energy and creativity towards developing solutions to our climate and nature challenges specifically, and to provide financing and support to entrepreneurs in more parts of the world, including in the Global South.

The good news is that this is already happening. If you just look at the UAE, in a report we recently commissioned at Crescent Enterprises, we discovered an eleven-fold increase in venture funding towards green tech over the past 5 years, with 144 new green tech start-ups enabled by $650m in venture funding. This is an encouraging trend, and the more that we can continue to debunk the myth that the greener something is, the less profitable it will be, then the more capital we will see flowing into the green tech sector. The COP28 Business & Philanthropy Climate Forum is also working to accelerate this process.

Private philanthropy plays a pivotal role in closing the annual financing gap to achieve key goals from net-zero emissions and environmental restoration, already outpacing government assistance fivefold. What strategies can enhance philanthropy’s impact in this arena?

Fixing climate finance is one of the key priorities of COP28, and by extension, of the COP28 Business and Philanthropy Climate Forum. We know that we have a big hill to climb here. Global investment of over $3 trillion a year will be needed to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and it is estimated that developing countries alone will require investments of 2.4 trillion dollars annually through to 2030 to meet Paris Agreement Goals.

It is clear that we will need to unlock additional sources of capital, and this is one area where philanthropy could play a transformative role. Redirecting a portion of the estimated $1 trillion plus of philanthropic capital flowing through the global financial system towards climate-focused initiatives could make a significant contribution to closing the climate finance gap.

Philanthropic capital can also often be deployed in more flexible, risk-tolerant and patient ways than other forms of finance. When we combine philanthropic capital with business or public sector capital, or both, we can create a multiplier effect that produces outcomes that not one of these funding sources could achieve on its own.

Given the disproportionate impact of climate change on women, and the connection between gender justice and environmental issues, how could a focus on inclusivity and equity lead to more effective solutions in the climate change fight?

The UAE has made no secret of its ambition to make this the most inclusive COP ever. That is not a talking point. It’s a genuine commitment that has shaped every aspect of COP28, including the design of the COP28 Business & Philanthropy Climate Forum.

A number of important steps have been taken to specifically elevate women’s voices in the COP process and to empower women around the world, including in the Global South, to play a leading role in the global response to climate change.

For example, the COP28 Presidency has called on all participants to assemble gender balanced delegations that include youth, indigenous and subnational representatives. It has also committed publicly to ensuring that gender diversity is represented in all COP28 workstreams and events, as well as through a dedicated Gender Day, where stakeholders will make commitments to ensuring a gender-just transition and expanding direct access to climate financing for women and girls around the world.

Ultimately, this is yet another example of why we can no longer afford to separate the human development agenda from the climate and nature agenda. They are two sides of the same coin, and the edge of that coin is conducive and inclusive climate policy that embraces a greener evolution of all of our systems, while ensuring equitable opportunities for the billions of people who have not always been afforded them in the past.

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