Climate: the opportunity from Paris

Wonderful to have been in New York this week for meetings on ending the war on drugs. Even more wonderful given this has coincided with a record-breaking number of nations signing up to the Paris Agreement on this Mother Earth Day.


Richard Branson New York City

The thanks owed by all of us and future generations to the many thousands of people involved in the climate negotiations will never be truly acknowledged. Seeing the way delegations from different nations took on this truly complicated problem and worked together is a powerful lesson for businesses and entrepreneurs around the world in this critical decade. We must learn from their example so that we may all work together with other stakeholder groups to move forward. This is what I saw the start of in Paris, and what I, and many others, hope will continue.

Virgin Unite, The B Team, B Team, Climate Change, David Crane, Paris

A lot of people are now acknowledging the fear that comes with learning about climate. The overwhelming majority is now soberingly familiar with what is at stake for our children, and for the whole planet. As the wonderful Christiana Figueres moves on from her role leading the UNFCCC negotiations in July, her powerful words come to mind: “We will move to a low carbon world because nature will force us, or because policy will guide us. If we wait until nature forces us, the cost will be astronomical.”

But now is the time to move through that fear and see acting on climate as the opportunity it really is. One that, if we succeed, can also help meet many of the other sustainable development goals and create a better future for the whole Earth.

There is still a lot of work to do – for science, business, governments, NGOs, civil society and others. Professionals from each area must be relentless and never lose sight of the carbon budget needed to keep average warming below 1.5 degrees. But, as the Paris negotiations showed, we can and must find ways of constructively working together based on rigorous science and effective communication. 

In order for the Paris Agreement to cement progress, the individual countries now need to embed long-term net zero emissions goals into law. On behalf of the B Team, yours truly, my co-chair Jochen Zeitz and Unilever CEO Paul Polman recently wrote to Chancellor George Osborne calling for this, and it has now being put into UK law. It is great to see Britain leading the way, but the world needs every country signing up to Paris Agreement to follow suit with policy and action. Committing to long-term net zero emissions goals will unleash new innovations, mobilise large-scale investment, and re-shape consumer behaviour, all of which will create new jobs and economic growth.

Richard Branson walking on the beach

It is still true that our greatest challenge is our greatest opportunity as a species. For now. I am mindful of Christiana’s words on this too: “We now move into a phase of urgent implementation. The journey that lies ahead will require continued determination, ingenuity and, above all, our collective sense of humanity and purpose. I know that together you will again rise to the task.”

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