After years of frustratingly non-productive international negotiations on climate change, hopeful signs are emerging for a global accord to regulate and to lower the level of carbon emissions entering the atmosphere. The recent agreement announced by the United States and China is but one example of the move towards a broader agreement.

The dire warnings of the environmental impacts of unchecked global warming contained in most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change may have added a sense of urgency on the need for such concerted action.

Against this backdrop of slow but emerging global commitment and the dire warnings of the UN, new voices are being heard from the business community calling for immediate action to contain the rise in global warming and to deal with the avoidable impacts of climate change.

Risky business

The momentum of private sector commitment to act on climate change has been building steadily over the past year. In June the report Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States, from the non-partisan Risky Business Project, showed that early investments in resilience and immediate action to reduce the causes of global warming can avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

That report heralded a growing sense of awareness of the probable costs of unmitigated climate change and gave businesses, investors, and governmental policymakers hard-edged information on the realities of the climate-related risks we all face.

“The need for multi-sector business partnerships that lead to a mutually beneficial economic and socially responsible action has never been more important.”

At the recent United Nations Summit on climate change in New York, many high-level business leaders signaled their intention to take positive steps to reign in their carbon footprints. Indeed the private sector appears better able to deliver the innovative technologies and investment capital needed to contain or even reduce carbon emissions.

Others have joined corporate giants such as Coca-Cola, Cargill, Walmart, McDonald’s, Nestle, Kellogg’s, General Mills, and Unilever in the high technology, finance, and investment communities, calling for action both in business and in government to marshal the innovative technologies and investment capital needed to contain and eventually to reduce carbon emissions.

Adding to the momentum for action is the just announced agreement between China and the United States, the world’s top two economies and the two largest greenhouse gas emitters. They agreed to cut emissions to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 for the U.S. and to peak CO2 emissions around 2030 for China, and to expand zero-emission primary energy sources to 20 percent by 2030.

This builds on the recent commitment by the European Union to a European Union-wide reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 40 percent by 2030.

There are many bridges yet to be crossed before the planned UN Climate Summit scheduled for Paris in 2015, but it is clear the business community is not waiting for an inter-governmental rabbit to be pulled from the hat in Paris next year.

Large climate-related impacts

Why is this important? Daily investment decisions are being made in boardrooms around the world that will have important consequences in terms of business, survival, and growth over the next few decades.

The realities of climate-related impacts on the availability of raw resources, on agricultural production, on critical social and fixed infrastructure, and on the development and deployment of lower carbon intensive energy sources have become the everyday stuff of business.

The need for multi-sector business partnerships that lead to a mutually beneficial economic and socially responsible action has never been more important.

Businesses cannot survive without a thriving society, and society cannot survive without a safe and clean environment. The world needs the resources and the innovation that only businesses can provide; recognizing that reality and acting on it will lead us to a desirable outcome.

The rising number of companies committed to a cleaner economy is a positive sign that we can make a difference and that we can adapt positively to minimize the negative impacts of climate change.

As the various articles in this campaign will show, business can — and I believe will — lead the way to a lower carbon future.