The private sector's role in fighting climate change

A family passes by one of the stands promoting green energy at the Climate Village in Cancun, Mexico.

Jeremy Hobson: In Rio de Janeiro tomorrow, the United Nations is holding a big conference on sustainable development. It's called Rio+20, because it's been 20 years since a similar summit in Rio that led to the Kyoto Protocol Climate Agreement.

Yvo de Boer spent years as a top UN official on climate change. But at this year's conference, he'll be representing the accounting firm KPMG, where he works as an advisor on climate change. Mr. de Boer joins us now. Good morning.

Yvo de Boer: Good morning.

Hobson: If you look at the list of people who are not going to this summit, it's some pretty big names -- President Obama, looks like he's not going; David Cameron, the U.K. prime minister; the leader of Germany, Angela Merkel. What's going on here?

de Boer: Difficult times. I think that many political leaders are preoccupied at the moment with the economic and financial crisis that we're seeing. Then, in many of the countries that you mentioned, including in the United States, this is an election year, which is keeping politicians at home. Plus I think thirdly that many people want to get a clear understanding of what exactly this conference is going to be focusing on.

Hobson: Don't you think though that the politicians are simply reflecting the fact that this is not among their constituents' top concerns, that climate change is not number one on most voters' minds?

de Boer: I think it's correct that climate change and other sustainability issues are probably not at the front of the mind of many voters, but at the same time, I do think that politicians have the responsibility to think ahead and my feeling is that on energy crisis, energy security materials scarcity, water scarcity, food scarcity, population growth, we're either at a series of tipping points or perhaps even past them.

Hobson: Why did you get into the private sector to work on this issue?

de Boer: Because I believe that the private sector, at the end of the day, holds many of the solutions that we need in order to really come to grips with some of these global megaforces.

Hobson: Why is that?

de Boer: Because the private sector is driving our economy. I don't think that you would want to change the direction of economic growth against the will of employment, against the will of the private sector, against the will of what makes economic sense. And for all of those reasons, this really needs to be a partnership between the public and the private sector.

Hobson: As you travel around the world, what's the best country when it comes to dealing with climate change? Who's doing a really good job at this?

de Boer: I'm probably going to mention a country that will surprise you. I think in terms of understanding that we fundamentally need to change the direction of economic growth, China for me is way out in front. China is the world number one investor now in wind energy and solar energy and battery technology. It has massive plans to create sustainable cities, to focus much more strongly on recycling. And I think that that is because that country recognizes that their model of economic growth basically cannot take them forward.

Hobson: Yvo deBoer is special global adviser for climate change and sustainability at the accounting firm KPMG. Thank you so much.

de Boer: Thank you.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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