Big business urged to combat climate change

A two-day conference has brought out business' big guns and Government leaders to stress the vital role of the private sector in tackling climate change.

Delegates from the upper echelons of multinational corporations were told that business as usual was no longer a sustainable option and heard from their peers who had implemented steps to reduce their companies’ carbon footprints.

The event was held at London’s swanky Café Royal and hosted by Defra, DTI and the business-based coterie the Climate Group.

Trade Secretary Alan Johnson said: “The smartest companies know already that business as usual isn’t an option and, to succeed in a carbon constrained world, it makes sense to invest and think differently about their energy use.”

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett told the conference that nobody should expect to see a post-Kyoto agreement come out of Montreal this year this year as the negotiating process would take time.

“I would like to suggest that the signals we have seen in 2005 point in only one direction – a future in which there will be ever tighter constraints on the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases which are emitted to the atmosphere,” she said.

HSBC Group chairman Sir John Bond spoke about the banking group’s efforts to reduce its carbon emissions worldwide.

Once efforts had been made to be more energy efficient and source as much power as possible from renewable energy sources, the company still had some way to go to reach carbon neutrality, he said.

The only way to achieve this was to buy in carbon credits.

“Carbon trading is an industry in its infancy but it will grow rapidly,” he told the conference.

He said companies with the foresight to get involved in the nascent trading schemes would find themselves at a competitive advantage as it became standard practice.

The conference was also used as a platform to launch the Climate Group’s second annual Carbon down, profits up report, which spells out exactly how dozens of companies, states, cities and regions have taken practical steps to reduce their carbon emissions while profiting financially from the process.

There were still those cautious about the concept, however, with president of the Confederation of British Industry, John Sunderland, saying government targets need to be realistic if they are to be meaningful.

“Business recognises and shares this concern about climate change not just from an ethical standpoint but also because the potential cost of climate change could be highly significant,” he said.

“At the same time it is also important to ensure that business has access to secure and affordable energy supplies.

Energy is a prerequisite of growth, prosperity and our quality of life. So we face a major challenge – can we decouple carbon emissions from our journey to prosperity?

“Technology will play a key role – history shows it has been key to reducing the energy intensity of industrial processes – but carbon emission reduction policies and targets also have a role and it is fundamental that these are intelligently designed.”

By Sam Bond

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