CGI experts discuss climate change, sustainability

By Adva Saldinger 26 September 2013
A dry tree. The challenges of addressing climate change is one of the issues discussed during day 2 of the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting held in New York. Photo by: Global Water Partnership / CC BY-NC-SA

Clinton Global Initiative leaders discussed on Wednesday the challenges involved in addressing climate change and sustainability issues, and how education, empowerment and action-oriented partnerships can help advance the agenda.

“To cause the revolution that is required to change the way the planet needs to be run, you’ve got to get points of aggregation at the local level,” said Andrew Liveris, chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical.

Dow has tens of thousands of suppliers that it sees as points of influence and is working to empower employees at all levels of the company to come up with ideas that promote sustainability. And according to Liveris, it’s not just about climate change, but the bottom line, For instance, a local chemical engineer saved the company nearly $40 million when he proposed a wetlands and nature preserve as an alternative to building a new wastewater treatment plant.

Education and empowerment, especially of actors at the grassroots level is key to addressing the issue, noted Wanjira Mathai, director of the Wangari Maathai Instutute for Peace and Environmental Studies and the vice chair of the Kenyan board of The Greenbelt Movement.

“The role of women in driving clean energy is central,” she said. Mathati explained that in the Greenbelt Movement, the key to mobilization and progress has been helping women at the grassroots level understand their role. Once those women are engaged in the process they will do the heavy lifting to adopt green technologies and change will come much faster than if it was just discussed at a policy level.

Difficult, but not impossible

One of the biggest issues in addressing the issue of climate change and achieving sustainability is addressing the gaps between what governments are doing and what needs to be done, said Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank.

“It takes time, innovation, hybrid financial instruments,” said Moreno, adding that while the goal is hard it should not be illusive.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres indicated that the global community is running out of time to fight global warming. While governments and policies may point towards changes to address climate change they often lack delivery capacity.

“It’s a question of how do you integrate all of these efforts to get where you need to get to in time,” Figueres said.

Bill McDermott, co-chief executive officer of SAP AG, commented that consumers would have an expanded impact on the way companies must respond to these concerns. Companies will have to co-innovate and rethink business models to succeed as issues such as global warning guide the millennial generation’s purchasing, he said.

In keeping with the theme of this year’s CGI there was a call for action.

“I think we all have to realize the complexity that we are dealing with,” said Liveris said, adding that there is no need to continue trying to define the issue: “We need to get out of that mode and get into solution mode.”

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