Image: Philippe Alès
Conventional wisdom would have it that those most passionate about protecting the planet from corporate ravages come almost exclusively from the ranks of the anti-establishment movement, of the kind now making headlines on the steps of St. Pauls. However conventional wisdom – as is the case surprisingly often – turns out to be wide of the mark. It seems that the corporate world itself is beginning to show signs of impatience with the slow progress, on climate change issues.
Leaders of nearly 200 major companies around the world have called for tougher action on the issue. The 2C° Challenge, co-ordinated by the Corporate Leaders Group, an organisation set up by the Prince of Wales, says that climate change puts society's future prosperity at risk. Companies signing up include such names as Tesco, Philips, Unilever, eBay and Rolls-Royce, and they are saying that the window for keeping global warming below 2C° has almost closed.
In a communiqué published six weeks before the governments of 192 countries convene in South Africa for the annual UN climate summit, the Corporate Leaders Group says; “If we do not act, climate change risks seriously undermining future global prosperity”. They cite analyses showing that at current rates, greenhouse gas emissions are not being curbed quickly enough to keep the global average temperature rise since pre-industrial times below 2C°, which is what many governments say they want.
A majority of the companies are actually pushing for the tougher target of 1.5C°, which is almost certainly out of reach without investment in what they call climate ‘technical fixes’. The Corporate Leaders Group has issued similar calls before, but has this time reached out to 30 countries - more than in previous years.
“The expansion of the network to include business groups from other countries shows that, far from losing interest in climate change as an issue, there is an emerging and increasingly international consensus amongst enlightened corporate leaders of the need for urgent action," said Eliot Whittington, director of the UK Corporate Leaders Group.
On Wednesday, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, who represent more than an eye-watering $20 trillion 9 (£12.5 trillion) in assets including banking giants HSBC and BNP Paribas, made a similar call. They argue that those governments acting quickly to implement tough climate policies would reap the biggest investments and the biggest rewards. The group statement said. “If we take the right steps, we can secure a low carbon-emission economy that is more resilient, more efficient and less vulnerable to global shocks.”
Those ‘right steps’ include, it says, breaking the deadlock that has prevented progress in the UN climate process, eliminating financial incentives for using fossil fuels, conserving forests and speeding up the promised transfer of funding from rich countries too poor to help them develop climate-friendly infrastructure. But, it says, many governments do not appear to realise the negative impacts that climate change can have on their societies and economies. One government that has taken the issue of climate impact on board is China, where official reports in recent years have increasingly spoken of damage from flooding, drought and rising temperatures. It has gone as far as prioritising environmental and energy issues in the country’s 12th Five-Year Plan.
“Climate change is one of the most important environmental issues of our time,” said Truett Tate, vice-chairman of Lloyds Banking Group. “Effecting change will require a concerted effort between businesses and governments as well as individuals.”