Cities, Climate Change

I arrived in Paris about a week into the global climate talks known as the 21st Conference of Parties or COP 21. The first week was marked with meetings and speeches by world leaders on the need for action and several announcements on efforts to fund clean energy development and adaptation. With the speeches over and the world leaders mostly back home, the country negotiators had the hard work of making enforceable agreements out of the speeches.

But these annual climate meetings are not just about the negotiations. While some of our AECOM staff and clients are directly involved in the negotiations, we are here in part because this event brings together corporate, NGO, and academic experts from across the globe to talk about how we can all work together to address two critical questions: how do we keep things from getting worse, and how do we prepare for the impacts that we are too late to stop?

I caught up with some friends and clients from six continents yesterday, and we all agreed there is much to do but the best way to act is to do something, even if it is small, because success breeds success. One of the events yesterday was a forum on renewable energy sponsored by Google at their very cool office in central Paris. Claire Bonham-Carter and I spent the afternoon with a hundred or so corporate, government, and NGO leaders talking about things we can do today to implement clean, renewable energy in cities, data centers, stores, and homes.

Google talked about the fact that they consume approximate 4 terawatts of electricity annually (terawatt=million megawatt) and about 37% of their power comes from directly purchased renewables and the current renewable portion of grid power. They also reduce the demand for their data centers (their biggest use) by 50% over “typical” data centers. Goggle also pointed out that they are putting their own money into this problem by investing $2.5 billion USD in renewable energy projects. It’s important to note this is not a PR move; they have a strong business case for these investments.

We also heard from companies like IKEA and Marks & Spencer, who produce and sell retail goods. They have both seen the bottom line value in making their operations run on renewables, and in IKEA’s case, are actually now selling solar PV technology directly to consumers. In part their customers are expecting them to be sustainable, but they are able to show their accountants the financial business case for these investments and strategies.

As world government leaders work out agreements for how quickly we can reduce emissions, it is the companies and people who will have to implement these commitments. It was great to hear from some of these leading companies on how this is not about just being good corporate citizens: This is smart business.

Josh Sawislak is global director of resilience, AECOM

Originally published Dec 7, 2015

Author: Josh Sawislak