Addressing Climate Change: The Role of Small and Medium-sized Businesses

Climate change The Copenhagen Accord reached at the end of 2009 provides a platform for business and political leaders from developing countries to take measures that will ensure long-term sustainability and real benefits to the citizens and environment of their countries in addressing climate change issues. It is not enough for these countries to churn out brilliantly written proposals to satisfy donor agencies or governments offering money to address these issues. Rather, the economic and business thinking must shift from merchant and donor recipient to producer, as new technologies and new business models are implemented to address climate change and environmental stewardship.

I endorse the sentiments of John Stubbs, executive director of the National Foreign Trade Council?s Global Innovation Forum, who noted that ?it is clear from the Copenhagen negotiations that governments cannot solve global warming by themselves. The private sector must be a majority partner in developing solutions and that would start with encouraging greater private sector investment in clean technology.? ?

Small and medium-sized businesses with growth potential must be engaged in the process. They should be at the forefront of the development and application of the new technologies and ventures needed to successfully respond to the call for change in developing countries. Multinational corporations that have contributed greatly to the current situation, particularly in developing countries where they have invested, should not be entrusted with leadership of the movement for change. This is so for two reasons: First, they have shown little concern or respect for the residents and environment in areas where they extracted the resources that swell the bottom line of their annual reports. Secondly, small and medium-sized businesses do not have the deep pockets to attract government officials and/or their local accomplices seeking a quick, fat payday ? the same individuals who typically feed at the Aid trough. In her book, Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo notes that ?the absolute imperative to make Africa?s positive growth trajectory stick is to rid the continent of aid dependency, which has hindered good governance for so long.?

For those of us who represent the large numbers of small businesses in the United States and developing countries, it is our responsibility to ensure that we are majority partners in developing solutions to the negative impact of climate change. We must also advocate aggressively for and take advantage of government support to create and maintain an enabling environment for sustainable growth in developing countries. ?
?U.S. small and medium-sized enterprises should pay close attention to the efforts of the Obama administration. With SMEs increasingly seen as the real engine of growth, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the government?s point person on trade, has been bold and aggressive in his advocacy and support of the engagement of small and medium-sized businesses in international trade. The head of the U.S. Export-Import Bank is equally emphatic about his agency?s role in supporting this segment of the economy.
A November 2008 U.S. Small Business Administration study on small business patents highlights the fact that such patents tend to be more significant than large-firm patents, outperforming them in a number of categories, including growth, citation impact and originality. The growth strategy for small firms that own patents should therefore include their potential in emerging markets.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced in December that the Commerce Department?s Patent and Trademark Office will pilot a program to accelerate the examination of certain ?green? technology patent applications. The initiative, coming days before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, will accelerate the development and deployment of green technology, create green jobs and promote U.S. competitiveness in this vital sector. ?American competitiveness depends on innovation and innovation depends on creative Americans developing new technology,? Secretary Locke said. ?By ensuring that many new products will receive patent protection more quickly, we can encourage our brightest innovators to invest needed resources in developing new technologies and help bring those technologies to market more quickly.?

In that vein, Caribbean entrepreneurs dropped the ball on exploiting opportunities in the seabed. After more than 25 years of hosting the headquarters of the International Seabed Authority, the region cannot show any significant investment in research or commercial ventures relating to the multitude of economic opportunities in the seabed. Let us correct this as we address opportunities to improve the environment by exploring joint-venture and trade opportunities in the areas of research, product development and the application of technology and infrastructure products.

On the African front, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya has set an example of one person?s innovation. Her Green Belt Movement, an indigenous grassroots, non-governmental organization based in Nairobi, takes a holistic approach to development by focusing on environmental conservation, community development and capacity building. Since 1977, more than 30,000 women have been trained in forestry, food processing, bee-keeping and other trades that help them earn income while preserving their lands and resources. In her appeal to the youth, Maathai states that ?unless we change course, the coming generations will inherit an impoverished environment that will mean a hungrier, less fertile and more unstable world.? ?

From basic technology to high tech, opportunities abound for today?s entrepreneurs and the responsibility is ours to do something now. As the late Bob Marley said, ?Come together and make it work.?? ?

Fritz-Earle Mc Lymont, Managing Partner, Mc Lymont, Kunda & Co. and Managing Director, NMBC Global. Reach him at