This piece was co-authored by Bella Roscher, Senior Manager Climate & Energy, WWF

How can non-state actors and businesses lead on climate finance and the agenda for sustainable development?

This question was at the core of 'Agenda 2030: The Paris Agreement and the role of climate finance', a seminar co-hosted by South Pole and WWF Sweden, which focussed on an increasingly important space in the post-Paris world of climate action; that is, the space for non-state action.

Since the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, the responsibility for climate action has generally fallen on states and their policies. For far too long this approach has failed us.

Although some countries have adopted the call to climate action, we have seen negligence and freeloading by other able states, while much of the developing world remains unable to act without critically endangering crucial economic growth. What this amounts to is a general pattern of disarray and global inaction that has seen temperatures soar on to dangerous heights.

Unlike Kyoto's almost insular dependence on government action, the Paris Agreement recognises the significant potential of non-state actors – that is, of businesses and cities – in keeping the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius. Of course, state action is still undoubtedly needed, and Paris encourages states to contribute with their own nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

Realising the 2030 Agenda and its wishlist of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) similarly hinges on the cooperation of governments with each other, international organisations, individuals and non-state actors. Sweden, for example, has pioneered an integrative approach with its so-called 'societal model' of national and international cooperation and collaboration. This approach has seen the Swedes emerge as global leaders on climate action among the nation-state ranks.

“Even though Sweden is a small country, our role is to show that it is possible to change, to live sustainably, to create jobs and to make life better for people."

These were the words with which Ibrahim Baylan, Sweden's Minister for Policy Coordination and Energy, opened the South Pole-WWF Seminar last month, highlighting his country's climate action efforts.

However, while Paris leaves space open for non-state actor contributions, the agreement isn't 100 percent clear on what types of climate action it prescribes for these players, meaning that they may have to work it out for themselves, perhaps by trial and error – Baylan also expressed his dissatisfaction with the Swedish business community, voicing his expectations for much more action from industry particularly in moving towards a fossil-free future.

Former Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, Jan Eliasson echoed Baylan's thoughts, speaking on the importance of mobilising NGOs and companies to achieve the 2030 Agenda SDGs. He stressed the importance of Sweden's coordination responsibility, and the need for everyone to work horizontally and mobilise between many sectors.

“We live in uncertain times and climate change is the major existential issue," said Eliasson, before highlighting the dynamics between the various SDGs – clean water, for example, improves health and also drives increased gender equality.

Speaking of the SDGs as a global roadmap, Eliasson again stressed the importance of action by the financial sector, “We need to work together, be positive, ambitious, and take responsibility!"

Globally recognised certification standards in the carbon market also highlight the synergies between the various SDGs pointed out by the Swedish Minister, and indicate the growing importance of the climate sector and its role in both promoting and facilitating action by other industries on climate change and sustainable development.

The Gold Standard certifications, for example, work to ensure every dollar or euro of climate funding goes as far as it can to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees and promote sustainable development. All Gold Standard certified projects must deliver on the SDGs and contribute to climate security – for example, South Pole's Gold Standard certified projects in carbon offsetting and renewable energy certificates (RECs).

Sandra Genée, Head of Partnership and Business Development at the Gold Standard Foundation emphasised the need for such holistic climate measures. Genée elaborated on how the Gold Standard is adapted to the SDGs with the purpose of building trust and partnerships, demonstrating progress and enabling scale-up. These global certification standards are one way for the private sector to catalyse positive change by reducing emissions within the industry and financing emission reductions beyond it.

Again, we are reminded that the NDCs of nation-states are not enough to meet the world's commitments set out in the Paris Agreement on their own.

South Pole Partner and Co-founder Patrick Bürgi echoed this sentiment, repeating that non-state action is crucial in meeting global targets. Bürgi also demonstrated the variety of tools currently available to non-state actors to help accelerate this process, again touching on voluntary climate offsetting, and also CORSIA (Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation).

The seminar's concluding panel discussion looked at the various opportunities and obstacles blocking climate action, as well as highlighting some of the ongoing concrete climate actions by businesses leading this space:

  • Christina Lindbäck from NCC shared how the construction company's switch to green electricity can help build sustainable cities that deliver to customers in the long term according to sustainability targets.
  • Christoffer Fröberg from the Swedish Postcode Lottery (Postkod) explained how its lottery prizes are selected based on consumer needs, whilst also striving for climate friendly prizes such as hybrid cars.
  • WWF's Stefan Henningsson again highlighted the importance of non-state action by drawing on the example of 200+ cities in the United States whose mayors have mobilised against the Trump administration's abandonment of the Paris Agreement in the We Are Still In campaign. WWF also mobilises almost 400 cities in the One Planet City Challenge, which has so far committed to emissions reductions of 358 million tons by 2020.
  • Pär Holmgren said that we are stuck in a paradigm that normalises exponential growth, emphasising that the biggest obstacle to action is this short-sightedness – we need to continually highlight good examples of climate action to break out of this pattern.

We are at a critical turning point in the fight against climate change, yet so many world leaders are putting climate action on hold for other, 'more immediate' concerns – or checking out of the climate conversation altogether. Non-state actors must help wake up their governments to the truth; that climate change is the most immediate concern that they face.

In showcasing the range of ways for non-state actors to pioneer and benefit from climate action against a backdrop of stagnating government action, WWF Sweden and South Pole's seminar flipped the traditional focus on state action on its head and provided an inspiring, thought-provoking discussion on the space for non-state action on climate change in a post-Paris, 2030 Agenda world.

It is time for businesses, cities, NGOs and other non-state actors to come together and catalyse the movement towards a more sustainable future where the global temperature rise is below 2 degrees, and in doing so, pave the way for their governments to follow.

In order to build on the well-received seminar, WWF and South Pole will continue to work on initiatives that focus on what non-state actors can do to help live up to the Paris Agreement and achieve the SDGs. For further insights from the event, please reach out to our South Pole team at