The private sector has an unprecedented opportunity to increase investments in clean, efficient energy solutions. More businesses will seize the moment to act.

Share story

LAST month, the citizens of France — and the world — confronted two great crises of our time: international terrorism and climate change. They overcame fear, demonstrated great hope for the future and, most important, took action to overcome both. We know — we were there.

As delegates to the United Nations’ Conference of the Parties on climate change, we witnessed Parisians take action to strengthen public safety and security. We also saw the world take a historic and united step forward in arresting the existential threat of climate pollution.

Nearly 200 countries united in a victory not only over climate deniers, but for a path forward to reducing their carbon footprints, shifting to renewable-energy alternatives and using energy more efficiently. The untold story of the Paris agreement is the promise for a better future made possible by an unprecedented collaboration between local and regional governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector to invest in smart, clean and efficient energy solutions.

Local, regional and state governments played a critical role in Paris, forging — even forcing — a successful conclusion to the negotiations. Known as “sub-nationals,” they were superstars at the conference, represented, in part, by 1,000 mayors from across the globe. As first-responders to the escalating impacts of weather catastrophes, they continually pressed the point that we can no longer wait for action. The cost of lives lost and depleted financial resources are readily apparent to those who must repeatedly respond on an emergency basis to severe weather events and the aftermath. Doing nothing, for them, is not an option.

Larry Phillips was chairman of the Metropolitan King County Council before retiring in 2015. Brett Phillips is the director of sustainability for Unico Properties, a real-estate investment and operations company, and is the founder and chairman of the Seattle 2030 District.
Larry Phillips was chairman of the Metropolitan King County Council before retiring in 2015. Brett Phillips is the director of sustainability for Unico Properties, a real-estate investment and operations company, and is the founder and chairman of the Seattle 2030 District. They are father and son, respectively.

Our local contribution to this effort was well-received: King County’s updated Strategic Climate Action Plan demonstrated what comprehensive actions are being taken to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Recognized as among the best local plans developed to date, it helped set the stage for others to act.

Business giants Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos headlined for the private sector. They have launched the multibillion-dollar Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which will seed investments in research and development for affordable and reliable clean energy. This commitment was bolstered by hundreds of global businesses, from Apple to Xerox, which have pledged to significantly cut carbon emissions from their operations and invest in clean-energy technologies. Notably, Google announced during the negotiations that it will power 100 percent of its global operations with renewable energy, making it the largest such purchase commitment in history by a non-utility. Locally, more than 250 companies have publicly joined the Washington Business Climate Declaration calling for increased investments in a low-carbon future.

These are not philanthropic ambitions. Rather, these actions are an acknowledgment by our most successful business leaders of the pressing need to transition away from fossil fuels in order to secure long-term economic prosperity. With the Paris accord providing international consensus on emissions limits, the private sector has an unprecedented opportunity to increase investments in clean and efficient energy solutions. More businesses should, and will, seize the moment to act.

Similarly, NGOs have an important role in the climate fight by leveraging their unique ability to build coalitions across the public and private sectors. Here, once again, our Northwest ingenuity was on display in Paris through the participation of the Seattle 2030 District and its parent organization, Architecture 2030, which are moving cities toward carbon-neutrality. Leadership by these organizations and their partners resulted in the creation and launch of the Global Alliance for Building and Construction, which, for the first time in history, is establishing an international framework to scale up climate action in the carbon-intense building sector. Already, more than 1,300 building-related climate actions have been launched by alliance partners.

As we move forward, governments, businesses and NGOs must continue to work together with a common purpose around shared goals, strategy and action. These groups must move forward collaboratively and decisively with the same spirit and resolve that we witnessed in Paris.

The future of the world is at stake. Let’s get to work!