As I am writing this blog post, the participants in the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) have just tabled their draft proposal, a preliminary document establishing the points of negotiation for some 190+ countries.

In their initial address to the attendees and country negotiators, many world leaders have used words like “fair,” “ambitious,” “comprehensive,” and “binding” to describe the deal expected by the end of the summit.

The stakes are high. To prevent the earth from warming up 2 degrees Celsius past what scientists have deemed would cause serious harm to the planet, its biodiversity, its resources, and the viability of its communities, we need to curb the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) going into the atmosphere. By definition, this requires a global approach.

There is definitely a “change in the air” these past few months. From the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline construction by the Obama administration, to China’s pivot in climate change due to raising seas and the threat to its economy, to the election of a new political party in Canada that is vowing to bring science-based facts and environmental issues back to the forefront of the agenda, there is no denying that the tone has changed and a sense of urgency is being felt.

Cities demand bold action: Mayors taking on a leading role

While the respective government negotiators are busy making a deal, a Climate Summit of Local Leaders gathering of a thousand mayors or so took place on the fifth day of the Paris talks. This summit was co-chaired by Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo and Michael R. Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City and current UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change.

This one-day gathering was star-packed with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Gore, Elon Musk, and Robert Redford all making an appearance with calls to bold and urgent actions.

Mayors are all too aware of the challenges of climate change, and they are the dynamo behind concrete actions. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo articulated this imperative: “As I told the negotiators when bringing them our contribution, cities are not waiting for them to give us the solution,” she said. “We are moving ahead and making a solution possible.”

The potential for mayors to be impactful on the climate change front is real as cities are home to half the global population, and their activities generate two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, cities are where the leadership in emissions reduction will yield the greatest results.

Climate change and your bottom line: Is your organisation ready?

On December 4, 2015, the mayors signed the Paris City Hall Declaration, in which municipal authorities pledged their support for 100% renewable energy or an 80% reduction in overall emissions by 2050.

These ambitious goals coupled with the change in tone as mentioned above means that, over a short period of time, all levels of government and also the general public will start demanding action from private organisations like ours.

The municipalities yield enormous power to shape future policy on waste disposal, water management, and energy consumption via taxes, infrastructure projects, or local building codes.

Here’s how your bottom line could be affected:

Fossil fuel divestment: Pledging to “divest from fossil fuels in order to support the transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy” is not inconsequential: It will affect the cost of energy we use and those costs can be significant. It includes the energy to light up/heat/air condition our offices and data centres, and the power we use to print the newspaper.

The fuel used to deliver the newspaper may not be targeted by municipal endeavours although the federal/state policies may do so via a carbon tax. In addition, you may:

  • Have to retrofit some of your building as per new building code standards (add energy efficient lighting, for example).

  • Be required to have a certain percentage of your energy come from renewable sources (Bullfrog powered, for example).

  • Be required to assign a percentage of your parking spaces to “green transport” (reserving a few “plug in” parking spots for electric cars, for example).

  • Be asked to devise an “active transport” plan for your employees (adding more bicycle racks and a public transit plan for your employees).

Municipalities also greatly influence water usage and waste management. We will explore those and how they have the potential to influence our operating costs in greater details in the next post.

Carbon footprint: There is no question that in 2016 there will be greater scrutiny on the small- to medium-sized organisations. So far, mostly large organisations or multinationals have had to respond with emissions and sustainability reports.

However, with municipalities playing a more active role in emissions control, expect them and the public to hold smaller organisations accountable for their carbon footprint.

So the question is: How ready are you to answer questions about your energy sources and your overall carbon emissions?