23/09/2014 11:41 BST | Updated 22/11/2014 05:59 GMT

The Climate Has Changed: How Business is Turning Risk into Opportunity

Today marks a significant moment for society at large. The message from more and more companies, citizens and governments is clear: building a low carbon economy globally, nationally and locally can make us more prosperous.

Today marks a significant moment for society at large. The message from more and more companies, citizens and governments is clear: building a low carbon economy globally, nationally and locally can make us more prosperous.

As our business leaders continue to stress time and time again, there is a powerful and growing consensus among leading businesses on the need for action. More companies and investors are committed to bold leadership on climate than ever because they know it makes business sense. Now is the time to accelerate both ambition and action in New York in preparation for the UNFCCC meeting in Paris in 2015, at which leaders will need to agree a new global deal.

On the opening day of the UN Climate Summit in New York, We Mean Business will be launched; an unprecedented coalition of business organisations (BSR, CDP, CERES, The Climate Group, The Prince of Wales's Corporate Leaders Group, The B team and WBCSD) which have formed to accelerate climate action, for the sake of the global economy, not in opposition to it. The organisations that are a part of We Mean Business have recognised that we must work together to amplify this message. CEOs such as Apple's Tim Cook and IKEA's Peter Agnefjäll, alongside many others during Climate Week NYC will take to the stage to say that there is a business case for making low carbon investments and that investing in a low carbon economy is a business opportunity.

The data that We Mean Business release today in its report, The Climate Has Changed show that more and more companies understand the benefits of investing in low carbon technologies, products and services from across different sectors and in different countries. For example, on average an Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of 27% is being made on low carbon investments. Some businesses are seeing an IRR as high as 81%. This week, I hope employees everywhere will ask their bosses when they last got that type of return on a business investment. I also call upon CEO's to ask the same of their shareholders.

Climate action was once perceived by most governments and businesses as a sacrifice. Today, the value proposition is very different, the warming that scientists have long warned us about is here and communities are already making sacrifices to adapt, due to the lack of scale in terms of action by society at large.

Evidence of climate change is rippling across our economy, from rising food prices, through to the human and financial costs of flooding and prolonged droughts. But now, as the report shows, there are more and more businesses joining the low carbon economy. Early adopters of low carbon innovation, including energy efficient buildings and industrial processes, renewable energy and green supply chains, have proven that addressing climate change can equal revenue growth. But to reach scale we must work together with policy makers to ensure that the business opportunities are better recognised and that those sectors that are truly struggling from the transition are brought onto the journey. We Mean Business is exactly what it implies. We mean business.

And it's crucial that business plays a leadership role. Without a strong corporate voice, a universal agreement in response to climate change is impossible. From General Motors and Nike to General Mills and Unilever, businesses are seeing first-hand the devastating impacts of climate change, and they don't like what they see. They want stronger climate policies in capitals around the world and they want a strong international climate treaty in Paris in 2015.

The proof of this business groundswell is the growing coalition of companies and investors that are dedicated to moving business to a sustainable footing and We Mean Business is emblematic of this growing momentum. This message is also being amplified by our patron His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, who has joined the voices at Climate Week calling for ambitious international negotiations on climate change and concrete action to drive down carbon emissions.

We Mean Business is asking the business community to take three steps. Firstly, acknowledge the science; the Earth is on a path to a prehistoric temperature rise by the end of this Century. Secondly, they should act to reduce their CO2 emissions and enhance their resilience in the face of climate-related impacts. Lastly, they should advocate for a low carbon future by actively driving political will toward an ambitious agreement in 2015. To support business, we're asking for governments to commit to a set of six practical initiatives, which includes putting a meaningful price on carbon and committing to science-based emissions reduction targets, which will influence policy outcomes and help drive consensus and action toward an agreement.

The future will happen by default or by design. Over the next 16 months, governments and business alongside cities and citizens have the opportunity to be the architects of positive change that echoes to the needs and the aspirations of this generation and generations to come. Now business and governments have to choose which side of history they will fall in.