British business: environmental scapegoat or scaremonger?

Polluting industries and big business have put the government under pressure to lower "ambitious" emissions reduction targets, saying that they will damage the UK's economy.

However, the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) have accused the lobbying “environmental deregulationists” of trying to push the government into back-pedalling on their environmental protection policies, and has launched a counter-lobby campaign against them.

Led by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the EIC has also accused the campaigning industries of “scare-mongering” by exaggerating the real costs of cleaning up after themselves.

The commission has urged the government to ensure only evidence-based policy-making, stating that policymakers regularly overlook the positive economic benefits of environmental protection to the health service, occupational health, innovation in mainstream industry, and all affected industries, including tourism, insurance and the UK’s environmental technology industry.

EIC chairman Adrian Wilkes said his campaign was vital because the CBI-led lobby had captured the policy debate in Downing Street, to what he felt was the huge detriment of British citizens and the UK economy.

“The scaremongering DeRegulation Lobby has traditionally used the tactic of publicising economic-impact studies to dramatise the impacts of environmental protection as potentially devastating to industry and consumers,” he said.

“Yet all economic studies show that polluting industries consistently exaggerate the costs of pollution control. And at last week’s Select Committee hearing the CBI were unable to give one single example of a British company that had left the UK because of environmental regulation.”

However, a spokesman from the CBI told edie that it was not fair to try to paint British business as the bad guys. He said that the CBI felt so-called polluting industries had already done a lot to protect the environment and were still prepared to do more.

“We need global action and a global agreement,” he said. “The feeling in UK business is that everyone is keen to bash big companies over the head, while failing to tackle consumers and the big polluters. Only by addressing all of these things can we achieve environmental balance.”

Speaking at the World Economic Forum this week, director general of the CBI Sir Digby Jones praised Tony Blair for putting climate change at the top of his foreign policy agenda, but warned that nothing would change until “the world’s big polluters step up to the plate”.

Politicians need to have the political courage to make consumers play their part, he said, instead of “just forcing companies to go out on a limb”.

“UK firms are tired of carrying the can for environmental problems. Politicians kid themselves if they think we can cure global warning without cooperation from the word’s big polluters,” Sir Jones stated.

“With business already doing a great deal, now is the time to focus on the creation of more green consumers. Politicians acknowledge the importance of changing consumer behaviour but few have a convincing agenda or the courage to do so.”

He pointed out that, since 1990, carbon emissions from business in the UK had fallen by four times as much as household emissions.

“Ministers must counter attempts by environmentalists to scapegoat business by highlighting company contributions to resolving environmental problems. Business is responsible for the innovative policy ideas, such as the emissions trading scheme, that have a chance of helping solve the problem,” he continued.

But the CBI spokesman told edie that the organisation still felt the emissions targets should be reduced because they were too ambitious and would just end up harming the UK’s economy by pushing British business far ahead of the international market.

“The UK is a major world economy, but if we charge ahead on these issues and no-one else comes with us, we’ll end up shooting ourselves in the foot,” he concluded. “We need to find a balance between business and the environment, but that does not mean that the environment is not important.”

The UK is currently doing better than competitors such as France and Germany in meeting Kyoto commitments, and is also way ahead of big polluters like the US, India and China.

By Jane Kettle

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