20/05/2015 06:08 BST | Updated 19/05/2016 06:59 BST

The Success of COP21 Also Depends on Businesses

By Laurent Fabius and Christiana Figueres

This week, major business leaders will gather in Paris for the Business and Climate Summit. This meeting is being held around six months before the Paris Climate Conference, COP21, the aim of which is well known: to reach a universal agreement limiting the rise in global average temperature to 2°C or 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

At this week's summit, businesses will have the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to preserving our planet and promoting the transition towards a lower-carbon development model.

Until recently, action against climate change was trapped in a sort of vicious circle: many businesses were waiting for political decisions before taking action, while governments, for their part, were waiting for a mobilization of the private sector.

Now the situation is changing. Firstly, most governments are committing themselves. To date, nearly forty countries - including the twenty-eight Member States of the European Union, the United States, Mexico, Gabon, etc. - have submitted their "national contributions", that is, their commitments in terms of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to climate change. We are counting on all countries to join this collective effort and submit their contribution before the deadline of 30 October.

Secondly, many businesses now include climate action in their long-term strategy and their daily activities. Recently, several very large companies - General Motors, Google, Amazon, Apple - have signed major agreements on renewable energy use. A few weeks ago, forty-three business leaders, from companies in over 150 countries, declared their responsibility to support sustainable development. Ikea, Toshiba Corporation, AkzoNobel, Enel, Hindustan Construction Company, ING Group, Marks and Spencer, Suez Environnement and other large and medium-sized enterprises have undertaken to reduce their environmental impact by setting goals to lower their emissions and their energy consumption. They have also committed to promoting innovative technologies and incorporating climate risks into their decision-making processes.

These positive developments can be explained by a general increase in awareness and by business interests. One thing is gradually becoming clear: investing in green growth, which is the growth of the future, can be a source of profit and employment. A recent report by the "Carbon Disclosure Project" shows that businesses which actively take into account the issue of climate enjoy 18% higher returns on investment than those that do not.

For a long time, climate action was seen as a cost rather than an opportunity, whereas today, the debate centres on the cost of taking no action. According to some estimates, inaction to combat climate change could cost global annual production a total of $28 trillion by 2050.

In this context, as we head towards COP21, we expect business leaders from around the world to call for ambitious policies and to join this collective effort themselves by taking concrete steps, for example by setting themselves a target of 100% renewable energy use, or progressive emission reduction targets. The Paris Business and Climate Summit is a key event in this regard.

During COP21 in December 2015, private sector action will form part of what we are calling the Agenda of Solutions. This action will extend the excellent initiatives resulting from the Climate Summit organized in September 2014 by the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, which were brought together in December 2014 under the framework of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda. The efforts made by businesses - along with those made by cities, regions and civil society - are obviously no replacement for the crucial measures that must be taken by states, whose action is decisive, but they will strengthen these measures. The central - and fair - idea is that governments should not be the only ones combating climate change.

The Paris climate agreement that we are working actively towards will not provide an immediate solution to the problem of climate change, but it can and should provide a way forward. Today, we are convinced that a large number of public and private stakeholders are ready to commit, in specific ways, to building a more sustainable world. The time for climate action has therefore come, and businesses need to play their full part.

Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, President of COP21

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)