COP21 and the Power of Narrative to Address Climate Change

December 22, 2015 Comments Off on COP21 and the Power of Narrative to Address Climate ChangeComments Off on COP21 and the Power of Narrative to Address Climate Change

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The climate change agreement reached in Paris this month has been met with a predictable blend of celebration and criticism from both sides of the debate. In fairness to critics the terms of the agreement are yet to be finalized and must overcome significant domestic obstacles among the signatories in terms of ratcheting down pollution. Yet, despite this, perhaps the most powerful impact of the COP21 agreement has already been achieved – the authorship of a new narrative for business, our species and the planet.

This narrative turns on the core recognition that climate change is both a shared crisis and shared responsibility. This recognition has united an unprecedented number of leaders and countries around a challenge that transcends regional, national, and political barriers and self-interests. In doing so, it has fundamentally recalibrated the balance between the healthy self-interest of nations and their co-dependence moving forward if we hope to have a sustainable and prosperous future.

This global alignment draws a line in the sand between our past and the future, between the conscious or unconscious presumption that we live on an planet with infinite resources that can support a limitless number of people and the recognition that we live on a fragile planet whose resources must be nurtured, between a global business narrative that tirelessly pits the most powerful nations in the world against each other in a ‘winner takes all’ race to the recognition that our very survival turns on moderating our ambitions so that life as we know it can be sustained. President Obama said as much when he announced, “What should give us hope that this is a turning point, that this is the moment we finally determined we would save our planet, is the fact that our nations share a sense of urgency about this challenge and a growing realization that it is within our power to do something about it.”

This narrative shift has huge implications for business, industries and our future. In terms of business as we know it, it represents global recognition that industries and business practices that defined the last century must now change. At the same time, this narrative permits the resources, creativity and innovating of legacy industries and practices to be aggressively redirected towards alternative and more sustainable ways of satisfying the energy, food and consumer demands of a population racing towards 9 billion people.

There is little doubt that any final agreement hashed out by so many countries with their own political interests will compromise or possibly co-opt its intent, the COP21 agreement is truly historic in the sense that it has begun to rewrite our future. Global recognition of a shared crisis of such scale is a defining moment for how business, younger generations and citizens around the globe will think of the place in the world. It will largely silence the hollow protests of climate change deniers and rightly refocus the debate on the most effective and swift solutions. So before we throw up our hands or dismiss the agreement as nuanced corporate ‘greenwashing’, it’s important to recognize that a seismic shift in global consciousness has already occurred. The future is a story we write every day and the COP21 agreement inks an overarching narrative of sustainable stewardship of our planet that will improve the lives of millions of people and generations to come.


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