From climate, opportunity flows

By Karin Lexén

Director, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)

Building on the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by heads of state in New York in September, several businesses – both in Sweden and abroad, have started to integrate the goals into their business operations. The climate agreement set to be adopted in December, and its implementation (from 2020), will also have a significant impact on the private sector as a whole – and it’s not all bad news. A climate agreement will set the global direction for:

  1. Greenhouse gas emission reductions in order to keep the temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius or, as many, including SIWI, now argue 1.5 degree Celcius
  2. Resilience-building. Against this backdrop it is crucial to remember that:
  • Many efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions depend on reliable access to water resources. The expansion of renewable energy will also, to a large extent, depend on access to water on all levels.
  • Climate change is essentially water change. Climate change impacts are most acutely felt through water, for example increased rainfall variability, less predictable monsoons, prolonged droughts in semi-arid regions and reduced water storage in snow and ice. Global water demand is also expected to increase by 55 per cent by 2050, due to growing demands from manufacturing, electricity generation and households (OECD).

Water scarcity and variability pose significant risks to all economic activity. Water stress, in many cases, actually implies financial risk. Everyone therefore has an interest in reducing emissions and building resilience. Businesses can however, choose to view action on climate change as an opportunity, rather than a cost. At the very least, building resilience to climate change will reduce risk. At most, there are opportunities to take a leading role in initiatives, and develop technologies to help reduce carbon emissions and build resilience, thereby adding to your competitive advantage.


What we know:
  • The legal form of the agreement is still up for negotiation (stay tuned for updates on this). It is expected that countries will at least strive to deliver on their national commitments, as outlined in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s), and compliance mechanisms are being discussed.

Many countries have now submitted their NDCs. Brazil has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 and Sweden has announced its ambition to become one of the first fossil-fuel free countrie. The United States intends to reduce their emissions by 26-28 per cent below its 2005 level by 2025. China intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030 and intends to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20 per cent by 2030.

  • In the months following an agreement, countries will start to take action on their NDC’s – action that should be progressively ambitious. This presents an opportunity for the private sector. There will be demand for innovative and effective initiatives, processes and technology that can deliver on the emission reduction targets and build climate resilience.


Three things you can start today:
  1. Understand what climate change really means for your business – both the risks and opportunities
  2. Measure your organization’s carbon and water footprints and reduce them where possible (use less, and move to renewable energy sources).
  3. Demonstrate your commitment to climate action by taking part in the Lima-Paris ACTION Agenda at COP21.

SIWI will be in Paris during COP21, monitoring formal negotiations and consulting with different stakeholders to help drive forward water resilience initiatives.

Biography – Karin Lexén

Karin Lexén is Director for The World Water Week, International processes and prizes at SIWI. She manages the organization of World Water Week the Stockholm Water Prizes as well as SIWI’s engagement in global policy processes, such as the 2030/SDG Agenda and the climate negotiations. She joined SIWI in 2007, and until 2012, was Director of SIWI’s Swedish Water House

Karin Lexén has worked with global environmental issues both in Sweden and internationally for more than 25 years. Her responsibilities have ranged from research on pollutants and their impact and management to analysis, policy development, opinion building, and dialogue with decision makers on issues such as the environment, global economy, human rights and conflict management. She worked with EU/UN-negotiations related to Climate Change, Sustainable Development and Marine Environment at the Ministry for the Environment. She was the Chair of the Swedish Fair Trade Association  between 2003 and 2011. She initiated and developed the Policy unit at the International department of Church of Sweden. Ms Lexén has also worked with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and Stockholm University.