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This piece, my first to lead TNR.com, was given three different titles by the editors there — none of which I particularly liked. They were: In Cancún, Corporations Are Taking Over The U.N. Climate Talks; Corporations Fight The U.N. Climate Talks In Cancún; and on the front page, Can Wal-Mart Stop Global Warming? The title above is probably the best representation of the post below.

One historical note: I hopped a plane to Mexico without a plan or press passes because an editor from the Guardian newspaper contacted me about doing some guest blogging for them. He rejected a pitch for this story due to the timing and another pitch about Evo Morales because his corespondent was already planning a piece on the Bolivian president. Although I was disappointed to not make onto the Guardian’s site, leading TNR.com is a new accomplishment (and one that paid me nearly as much). Pretty good for flying south on a hope and a prayer, I think.

Cancún, Mexico—Another year, another round of U.N. climate talks. This year’s discussions in Cancún are likely to end much as last year’s haggling in Copenhagen did—without a firm global treaty to stop drastic climate change. But the stalemate has led to an intriguing side development: Large, multinational corporations are starting to play an outsized role in the negotiations. If world leaders can’t agree on how best to cut carbon emissions (and, so far, it’s not clear they can), then the world’s CEOs may start taking the lead. But is that really a positive development?

Consider some examples: On the very first day of the Cancún talks, the Consumer Goods Forum, a coalition of more than 400 of the world’s largest manufacturers and retailers, pledged to use its market might to help stop deforestation by 2020. The forum also pledged to phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons—refrigeration gases that are thousands of times more potent than CO2—by 2015. This week, Wal-Mart came out in support of a major global forest-preservation initiative, REDD, and has announced plans to expand its sustainable palm oil policy.

Mexican Secretary of the Economy Bruno Ferrari

To top it all off, the Mexican government announced that it had secured $55 million in private low-carbon investments since the beginning of the talk—all this while wealthy nations struggle to come up with funds to finance carbon reductions in the developing world.

It’s clear that private companies are stepping in to do what the public sector hasn’t been able to do—take concrete steps and shell out money to reduce greenhouse gases. Indeed, many officials are starting to treat these firms as major actors akin to governments. “I’m sure in the future [the Cancun conference] is going to be remembered as the moment when you have an additional part of the COP that is related with business,” predicted Bruno Ferrari, Mexico’s secretary of the economy. Last week, hundreds of businesses leaders staged their own climate summit. The message seemed clear: NGOs and non-profits haven’t been able to fix the climate problem, so let’s see if the private sector can.

Can they? It’s clear that private companies can act much more nimbly than governments. The measures taken by the Consumer Goods Forum and Wal-Mart will start taking have real effects on global greenhouse gases immediately, whereas a formal climate treaty won’t materialize until at least next year in Durban, South Africa—if that.

But there’s also cause for concern. Click here to read the rest of this post on The Vine.

 

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