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Business perspective on the transition to a climate neutral future by 2050

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Distinguished speakers, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you to this business round table on the transition to a climate-neutral future by 2050.

This round table comes at a critical time. It is clear that the world is not yet on track to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climate change and SDG targets and that renewed political commitment, leadership and guidance is essential. Sustainable Development is a common goal on a global scale; it requires a common effort of all nations to achieve sustainable use of natural resources and prosperity for all people. Europe must be the frontrunner, the global leader on climate and sustainable development!

In the last months, civil society has been calling for more ambitious and urgent climate action. As EESC, we are united in this: both our contribution to the Sibiu Summit and our most recent one, on 30 October, to the work programme of the next Commission are very clear: Sustainable development must be the top priority of the EU for the next decade.

Youth, also, has been very vocal on this. We still remember the words that may remember, the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, said to President Juncker and to us during our February 2019 plenary session " We need to focus every inch of our being on climate change, because if we fail to do so then all our achievements and progress have been for nothing".

But the message that I want to pass today is two-fold: on the one hand, the sustainable agenda is a win/win agenda for everybody: for the trade unions, for civil society and, last but certainly not least, for the employers. 

Today, Europe, although I am fully confident that it can catch up, lags behind China in economic sectors linked to sustainable development: take the electric cars or the batteries. Should be number one and yet it is not.

We know that the decisive fight for competitiveness will precisely take place in these sectors.

And here comes my second message: without the commitment, the support and the strength of the employers we will certainly not be able to shift to climate neutrality.

The new Commission taking office soon provides a clear window of opportunity to accelerate climate ambition. Commission President-elect von der Leyen announced a European Green Deal within her first 100 days of Presidency; this will imply an increase in EU's 2030 targets and a European Climate Law to set the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality objective. This is certainly very promising. On top of that, the first task of Mr Paolo Gentiloni, the Commissioner-designate for the economic affairs is to integrate the SDGs to the European semester.

The EESC will support the Commission's drive to match aspirations with actions in order to put climate ambition at the core of our individual and collective responsibility. Sustainable development is a top priority of my Presidency, and the EESC stands ready to actively contribute to the shaping of the sustainability agenda with the views of organised civil society. 

Climate change and sustainability are no longer about environmental issues alone: these challenges must be used to create a win-win agenda for everybody.

The economic opportunity presented by taking bold climate action is significant, with evidence suggesting that those companies aligned with a 1.5°C trajectory will be best-placed to thrive as the global economy undergoes a just transition to a net-zero future by 2050.

Many business leaders have already embarked upon this path. Today, more than 670 of the world’s biggest companies are setting science-based GHG emissions reduction targets. That’s around 12 companies joining per month since Science Based Targets initiative started back in 2015.

At the last month's UN Climate Summit, 87 major companies announced that they will align with the 1.5°C trajectory. These companies are at the forefront in the fight against climate change. They are showing thousands of other companies around the world that operating within the scientific thresholds for a climate-safe world goes hand-in-hand with successful business. But more is needed to make climate action the new business as usual. 

The business sector has the innovation, tools and expertise to make the shift to climate neutrality, happen. What it needs now is a political leadership and regulatory certainty. It is of key importance to send clear and timely signals to businesses, especially SMEs for them to be able to adapt their strategies while remaining competitive on the markets. 

Political strategies towards 2050 need to be defined clearly and in a timely manner while involving all relevant stakeholder in the consultation process on the best possible pathways to achieve the transformation. 

The transition to a climate-neutral economy will not happen without far-reaching research and innovation

We need political courage! The policy-makers should step up their ambition in all clean technology areas, to provide businesses with sound domestic markets, where innovation can be safely deployed, as well as integrated industrial strategies aimed at developing competitive climate-friendly solutions. Achieving this requires reorienting finance and investments. The new industrial strategy announced by Ursula von der Leyen will be key in this regard and the EESC, as I am sure the business sector, in particular, will be closely looking into this. 

I also wanted to say a few words about circular economy. Achieving the Paris Agreement in the context of the SDGs requires transformational change that moves away from incremental actions and relates to the economy and society as a whole. As we approach 2020 and the process of updating national commitments – NDCs – we will have the opportunity to consider these fundamental and systemic changes. Circular economy strategies such as reducing demand, material recirculation, material efficiency and new business models can be considered to increase the level of ambition of existing commitments. 

Ladies and gentlemen, the science on climate change is clear: the demand from society to take urgent action is shaping the new political priorities in the EU. This does not mean all is clear, this does not mean there are no challenges ahead and this does not mean there will not be losers of the transition that needs to happen. But, we have the responsibility to move forward in a responsible manner and with care not to leave anyone behind.

I am very pleased to see business mobilised around this topic. I am happy that such an important discussion among business players can take place at the EESC. I wish you very fruitful conversations, and I look forward to hearing your conclusions at the end of this process.

Thank you!