The first ever universal agreement to tackle climate change was reached at COP21 in Paris over the weekend. Amid the celebrations, it is widely acknowledged that Paris is just the beginning of real change. However, this agreement “will accelerate the shift to a new sustainable, equitable and decarbonized world … business leaders and investors now have a clear direction of travel, a global framework to speed up and scale up their solutions” said Philippe Joubert, Chair of the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group (CLG).

CLG brings together 23 global businesses employing two million people in 170 countries with combined revenues of $170 billion. It represents a wide-ranging group of companies including Anglian Water Group, EDF Energy, Coca-Cola Enterprises (NYSE:CCE), Unilever (NYSE:UL), Ferrovial (BME:FER), GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) and Iberdrola (BME:IBE).

“The US$5.5 trillion global market for low-carbon goods and services is set to get a whole lot bigger” said Niall Dunne, Chief Sustainability Officer at the BT Group, a CLG member from the ICT sector. 

“The consequences of this agreement go far beyond the actions of governments. They will be felt in banks, stock exchanges, board rooms and research centers as the world absorbs the fact that we are embarking on an unprecedented project to decarbonize the global economy” said Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever

This realization, he added, “will unlock trillions of dollars and the immense creativity and innovation of the private sector who will rise to the challenge in a way that will avert the worst effects of climate change.” 

For investors, it is likely to be about identifying those businesses that are willing to innovate and adapt to a changing market driven by consumer choice.

Mr. Polman has long been a world leader when it comes to the business need for sustainability, and in the days leading up to COP21 Unilever announced that it would become carbon positive by 2030.

In hailing the “coming together in common cause” demonstrated by the Paris Climate Talks, he also drew attention to the leadership shown by the French and Peruvian governments in integrating action by cities, regions, businesses and civil society. It was this integrated action, he said, that “has created an unprecedented movement of private sector action in support of an ambitious global deal.”

Integrated action across such a broad spectrum is a relatively new phenomenon in the world today, perhaps because climate change affects each and every individual, making every citizen a stakeholder. 

In Europe, institutional investors are beginning to suggest that if they are going to profit by their investments in a company, they should also take responsibility for the harm it causes on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, showing ‘stewardship’ - as I covered recently on Forbes

Mr. Polman has predicted that hundreds of businesses will now follow suit after the COP21 agreement with “leadership actions” – for example, in moving to 100 percent renewable energy, which he said would “become the norm for thousands.” Investment in innovation, he said, will accelerate fast in low-carbon areas.

Britain itself currently offers something of a contradiction between its stance on the world stage, and at home. The powerful business lobby group, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)  has a new Director-General and its first woman in the role – Carolyn Fairbairn. 

“The Paris deal heralds an exciting opportunity for business. We now have a climate deal agreed by the world’s leaders that puts us on a sustainable low-carbon path and which can provide the framework for business to invest with confidence” said Ms. Fairbairn.

But she added that businesses will want to see domestic policies that demonstrate commitment, “and none more so than in the U.K.”, where “more needs to be done.”

The U.K. government “must provide a stable environment that enables investment in cleaner, more affordable and more secure energy generation, including renewable technologies and new gas plants … the U.K. needs a level playing field for carbon costs, so that our energy intensive industries can compete effectively in a global, low carbon market place” she said.

Dina Medland is an independent writer, editor and commentator with a strong focus on issues around corporate governance, ethics, the workings of the boardroom and sustainable business. She is on the team of contributors to @ForbesEurope and is an ex-Financial Times staff member who has been a regular contributor in recent years. Further details about her background and a portfolio of work – including her commercially sponsored blog ‘Board Talk’ are available on her website http://www.dinamedland.com