Businesses must lead by example on climate change, says Lord Stern

Business leaders, cities and young people should be placing more pressure on world leaders to create "political tipping points" for action on climate change, according to economist and academic Lord Nicholas Stern.

In a new book, published today (3 June), Stern argues that the world now stands at a “unique and crucial point in time for decision and action” – and businesses will be critical to driving a more sustainable, low-carbon and less-polluted economy.

“Businesses can lead through the power of their example, including by producing low-carbon and otherwise sustainable goods and services, and by making big advances in their energy and resource efficiency, by promoting emissions reductions and environmental sustainability throughout their supply chains, and by applying an internal carbon price to their operations.

“In these ways and more, businesses are demonstrating what can be done and how to combine growth and environmental responsibilities.

“Businesses can also play a powerful and constructive role through the advocacy of strong and clear climate policy. While it is all too often the incumbent beneficiaries of the high-carbon status quo who dominate politics and policy formation, public business leadership on climate change is gathering pace.”

Crucial factors

The book – ‘Why Are We Waiting? The logic, urgency and promise of tackling climate change’ – is being launched 10 years after Lord Stern was commissioned by Tony Blair, the then UK Prime Minister, and Gordon Brown, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, to carry out a comprehensive review of the economics of climate change.

Now working as chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, chair of the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, and I.G. Patel Professor of Economics and Government at the London School of Economics and Political Science, as well as being president of the British Academy, Stern highlights three crucial factors that will define the challenges of the next two or three decades: –

Profound structural change in the global economy with strong growth in the developing world and rapid urbanisation;
The fastest technical progress the world has seen, including in digital, materials and biotechnology); and
A critical period for climate action because concentrations of greenhouse gases are already at very risky levels.

Stern suggests that the response to these factors will determine the world’s economy, environment and climate for the rest of the century and beyond.

Stern also draws attention to the important role of cities that are beginning to demonstrate the great potential attractions of a more sustainable economy, and emphasises the importance of young people as “a powerful source of pressure for climate action” because “it is they who will suffer most from the negligence of earlier generations, including this one”.

Trust issues

The book’s release comes a day after the launch of a major plan to halt climate change by making renewable energy cheaper than coal by 2025 by a group of UK scientists and economists. The Global Apollo Programme seeks to emulate the space race frenzy of the 1960’s to encourage more spending on clean energy.

But Stern argues that the world is still not yet showing the political will for the scale and urgency of the action required. He writes: “Those in political leadership carry a special responsibility for the future of their country and thus a responsibility to take a long view. Unfortunately, trust in politicians is low in many countries, and many politicians who understand the issues have been diverted by economic crises or intimidated by confrontation with vested interests.

“Strong action on climate change is often seen as making short-term election more difficult. But there is no more important issue, and it is their duty to lead.”

Luke Nicholls

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