Engaging the Business World: Side Events by Indian and Chinese Institutions

In Copenhagen this week and next, hundreds of side events - if not thousands - are taking place. Some of them are “official” COP15 side events meaning they are registered and provided with conference rooms, such as our NRDC’s held yesterday (scroll down to the 4th meeting entitled China and the World: Solving Climate Change Through Practical, On-the-Ground Collaboration); and many others are organized outside the main conference facility. Still some are presented outdoor in more eye-catching forms, e.g. dancing and chanting.

I went to two interesting side events this week that were not held in the Bella Center where the COP15 is taking place.

One was organized by the Indian Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank, and the other by the Chinese environmental NGO Shan Shui Conservation Center in collaboration with WWF.

The Indian workshop was interesting to me because of the subject it discussed: Removing Barriers to Private Sector Investment in Climate Solutions. According to several panelists of the workshop, the private sector, especially the financial segment of it, is capable of filling the big financing gap between the investment needed for CO2 mitigation and what the public funding (government funds) can possibly offer. The total investment needs of the developing countries to reduce CO2 emissions is estimated to be $480 billion/year, while the estimated public sector financial commitments on the table is only around $100 billion (J. Carmody, ADB). Who can fill the huge gap?  The private sector, the panelists believe. Public resources are out of sync in what is required for climate action; and 77% of infrastructure needed by 2020 hasn’t built yet and most of them will be in developing countries (D. Waughray, World Economic Forum). To attract private sector investments in fighting climate change, risk management is key, the financial experts said at the workshop. Policies that can reduce investment risk are needed.

The Chinese workshop also concerned the business sector, but from a different angle. It had several Chinese business leaders talking about their perspectives on climate change. Wang Shi, Chairman of China’s famous real estate developer Wanke, and Feng Lun, Chairman of another well-known giant building developer Vantone, each told their personal stories at the workshop, which were quite effective advocacy.

Wang Shi said that when he was a child his father told him that African’s highest mountain Kilimanjaro was snow capped all year round, which puzzled him as he thought Africa was a rather hot place. Several years ago, he climbed Kilimanjaro and sadly found that there was no more snow due to global warming.

Feng Lun is known to be a man of many novel ideas and he shared one at the workshop. Feng has wanted to build a super large “vertical city” to exemplify conservation of farmland in China, where the urbanization process is transforming 1.5 million farmers to urban dwellers each year.  Feng invited U.S. and European architects to propose designs and has selected a futuristic plan named Green Hills. This plan involves a group of tall buildings of various shape on 2 square kilometers of land accommodating 150,000 to 200,000 people. It's a very compact design. Feng announced that he had already obtained a piece of land near Beijing to build his vertical city.

What I found more encouraging than these personal convictions was a joint statement by some 200 Chinese companies and organizations, including Wang and Feng, at the event in Copenhagen. The statement recognizes the urgent need to fight global warming and promises to give strong support to Chinese Government’s recent commitment to carbon intensity reduction. These companies also promise to give their own dedication to “exploring models of low-carbon economic growth”.

As NRDC’s President Frances Beinecke pointed out: Global climate change is the single greatest environmental challenge of our generation, we have to rally all possible forces of the societies to collaborate and jointly take actions.  In a way, these workshops I went indicated Chinese and Indian business sectors’ growing climate awareness, which should lead to their closer partnerships with governments and other civil society organizations to in fight global warming.