The UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow in early November is billed as being of “planetary importance”. Tim Flannery, a leading writer on climate change, set the scene by describing it as “humanity’s last chance to avoid an environmental apocalypse”. 

Especially because it is of such immense importance, we need to make sure that all sides come out of their ideological trenches. Rather than the well-honed posturing of environmentalists bewailing the lack of progress — irrespective of what has been suggested — and the corporate managers’ warnings of dire consequences if we push too hard, we should look at it from a different perspective. 

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Climate change is a problem; problems have always represented a great business opportunity for those offering solutions.

As such, corporates should see climate change as a potential field of future business. Equally, environmentalists shouldn’t dismiss these initiatives out of hand, merely because they weren’t born out of deep green convictions. Vast sums will be needed to develop technologies, reduce or capture carbon, and to change our societies’ habits to make net-zero possible. Much like with the UN sustainable development goals, this can only be done with the corporate sector, rather than against it. 

Even if environmental purists look down at “blue hydrogen” or carbon capture and storage (CCS), the simple truth is that we won’t turn this problem around quickly enough without these technologies. A rethink is urgently needed.

Europe is in danger of falling behind. One example of this is the Norwegian Northern Lights CCS-project — while it is by far the biggest and most ambitious project in Europe, it’s small fry to what happens in the US and Canada in terms of CCS. 

As of today, CCS is not a money-spinner. But think of Tesla — having been early in electro-mobility, it grew from an erstwhile niche-player to the most valuable automotive corporation. There is nothing stopping this from happening again.

In that sense, European corporates should easily be able to see COP26 as a possible gateway to new business opportunities. 

Martin Kaspar is head of business development at a German mittelstand company in the automotive industry.

This article first appeared in the October/November print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.