Is greed good for the planet?

With COP23 underway in Bonn, and Paris 2015 already seeming a long way off, is the world really any closer to a cleaner, more sustainable economy?

Paris delivered a purely voluntary agreement, with an acceptance that there would have to be a lot more progress if there was any chance of keeping average temperature rises below 2°C, and a lack of clarity over who was going to put up the cash to make it happen. Since then, the world’s biggest economy has rubbished the process, and announced a pullout.

But despite the many reasons to despair, I am inclined to be optimistic. Since 2015, the two most powerful drivers of financial activity, fear and greed, are at last working in favour of the planet’s future. Last year’s COP22 in Marrakesh was the night after the party, when everyone woke up from the Paris party and wondered how the Hell they were going to turn their pledges into action, and where Government, civil society and business decided to have constructive discussions and work together.

The insurance industry has long understood that disastrous, unpredictable weather events and a warmer planet are bad for business. They have been sounding the climate change alarm for many years. Now many more sectors are catching up, having cottoning on to the fact that a sustainable economy means serious money. I have been working mainly in the energy and automation world for the past two years, and I’m convinced that the automotive industry is on the brink of a tipping point, with mass adoption of electric vehicles on the horizon. Battery technology will soon mean that wind and solar are 24 hour, stable energy sources (whose prices will continue to plummet. And underpinning it all are Big Data and automation, driving efficiency, cutting waste and managing the rapidly increasing demands for electricity.

Over the previous decades, activists and campaigners have played an important role in keeping the issue of sustainable development to the fore, but appeals to our better nature and conscience have only managed to make a limited impact. If civil society, Governments and business can make common cause, we will continue to see movement in the right direction (even if it can seem slower than a melting glacier), a focus on solutions and a possibility that the planet will still be conducive to human life in the second half of the century.

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