New business perspective on climate change

Written by  //  December 4, 2007  //  Business, Climate Change, Environment & Energy  //  Comments Off on New business perspective on climate change

December 5 2007
Tony Juniper
Opinion, The Guardian
For decades, the world’s major companies have been increasingly successful in telling governments to keep out of their way. They have demanded that environmental problems be dealt with on a voluntary basis using market forces, and corporate lobby groups have said over and over again that customer demand will solve problems and that firms can rise to the green challenge through choice rather that regulatory requirement.
In short, green rules have been deemed to be red tape that would damage competitiveness and stifle innovation.
Suddenly, there is a real change of tone. Last week, the Confederation of British Industry published a climate change report that called on the government to deploy the full policy and legal armoury of the state to cut emissions.
The next day, legal firm Clifford Chance published a survey of leading corporate executives, to reveal that more than four-fifths believe more regulation, not less, is needed for them to tackle climate change successfully.
Then, perhaps most importantly of all, came the initiative launched by the Prince of Wales’s business leaders’ group, pressing governments to collectively agree a tough, science-based and legally binding treaty to reduce emissions in Bali.
This is new and important. Ten years ago in Kyoto, governments wanted regulation, while companies demanded voluntary action. Now the reverse is true. Many governments seek market solutions, while companies are calling for new laws.
If we are to have any chance of rendering the activities of international corporations compatible with maintaining a productive planet, then new legal frameworks and supporting policies and financial structures are needed to do it. Politically powerful companies now say that they agree with that. This marks a vital shift in perspective.
A historic opportunity is being created by this new call from business. The questions is whether governments will now intervene and deploy new laws and policy frameworks, or whether they have become so ideologically lazy, so convinced by the easy rhetoric of markets and competitiveness, and the impotent policies these vague ideas imply, that they will retreat into their cowardly comfort zones of speeches without follow-through, of targets without accountability, and morality without backbone .
The Bali conference on climate change has begun. We will soon know the answer to those questions.
Tony Juniper is executive director of Friends of the Earth.

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