Accountability and collective action are the keys to reducing carbon emissions,
“We only have one earth,” Ma said during a keynote speech on day six of the COP21 summit. “If the earth is sick, nobody is going to be healthy.” But the problem is not one for just politicians to solve, he added. “It should be a joint effort. It should be government, business leaders, scientists, working together.”
Ma was speaking alongside business leaders such as Unilever CEO Paul Polman and climate-change activist and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. The annual gathering, called the Conference of Parties, began 20 years ago in Berlin to ensure the implementation of the UN Framework on Climate Change. Today negotiators for nearly 200 nations at the Paris summit,which ends next Friday, agreed on a draft plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
While nations began this push two decades ago, Ma pointed to the role that business leaders can play in combating climate change. Last week Ma, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and other top CEOs worldwide joined together to put billions of dollars to work in developing clean energy technologies.
Alibaba has been researching and putting into action more eco-friendly ways of operating, underscoring Ma’s contention that protecting the earth and running a successful business are not antithetical. Six years ago, the amount of energy used to conduct 10 transactions on the company’s e-commerce platforms could cook four boiled eggs, Ma said. By 2014, that figure had dropped to just one egg. Alibaba engineers are also applying energy saving technologies to reduce power consumption in the company’s giant data centers, he said.
“I think this is the opportunity,” Ma said. “Today the technology we have about using as little resources as possible, as little energy as possible to run our operations, becomes our competitive advantage.”
There will a need for sacrifice, however, as the attitudes that have created this problem will need to be changed. Ma called it a “war against human weakness.”
He said people living today have benefited significantly from the heavy consumption of fossil fuels but will also suffer as a result. Therefore, they should make most of the effort to solve the problem.
“Wisdom will teach us what we should give up,” Ma said. “Only when we know what we should not have, then we can survive.”