The stage is set for US to resume leadership of global climate stabilisation

The Global Climate Coalition (GCC), the organisation of business trade organisations which undermined US leadership in Kyoto, is no longer a dominant player in the global climate debate, says a Washington DC-based environmental research body. According to the Worldwatch Institute, this means that the stage is now set for the United States to resume leadership of the global climate stabilisation effort.

During the run-up to the 1997 Kyoto Summit, says Lester R. Brown, Chairman of the Worldwatch Institute, the GCC, which included some of the world’s most powerful corporations in its ranks, helped launch a massive advertising campaign designed to prevent the United States from endorsing any meaningful agreement to reduce global carbon emissions.

The organisation states in its position statement on climate change: “science – not emotional or political reactions – must serve as the foundation for global climate policy decisions”. GCC fears that any change in policy that is made without the adequate backing of scientific proof could have unnecessary social and economic impacts.

“Drastic reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions would not yield significant reductions in global emissions,” the position statement continues. “Any U.S. action must be part of an equitable multilateral agreement that minimises trade and domestic economic distortions.”

However, in 1997, the same year as the Kyoto Summit, BP Amoco withdrew from the GCC, its chairman stating that BP had reached a point where it believed that the possibility of a link between greenhouse gases and climate change could no longer be discounted. The chemicals giant, Dupont was already out of the coalition, and the following year, Royal Dutch Shell also found that its corporate goals no longer meshed with those of the GCC, says Brown.

The exodus continued in 1999, says Brown, with the motor company, Ford, whose engineers were already working on a fuel cell engine, requiring hydrogen rather than gasoline. A Ford spokesman is reported to have said on this occasion, “Over the course of time, membership in the Global Climate Coalition has become something of an impediment for Ford Motor Company to achieving our environmental objectives.”

In the early months of this year, says Brown, Daimler Chrysler, Texaco, and General Motors have all announced that they too will be leaving the coalition.

“The image created by this accelerating exodus of firms from the GCC was that of rats abandoning a sinking ship,” says Brown. “It reflected the conflict emerging within GCC ranks between firms that were clinging to the past and those that were planning for the future.”

Some of the exiting companies, such as BP, Shell and Dupont, formed the Business Environmental Leadership Council, now 21 companies strong. Membership of the council requires companies to have their own programmes for reducing carbon emissions.

One of the most ambitious goals is that of Dupont, which has already gone far beyond those of Kyoto. “We think that there is cause for companies to take prudent action,” a Dupont spokesperson told edie. “We have a goal to maintain flat energy consumption for the next decade.” Dupont also has a policy of sourcing 10% of its global energy requirements from renewable supplies.

On the supply side, says Brown, BP and Shell are investing heavily in alternative sources of energy, with BP now a leading manufacturer of solar cells, and Shell, already a major player in both wind and solar cells, now likely to open the world’s first chain of hydrogen stations.

“To date, the net effect of the various public and private initiatives world-wide has been to check the growth in global carbon emissions,” said Brown. “Since 1996, global carbon emissions have levelled off. The burning of coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel, dropped five percent in 1999. The next step is to reduce carbon emissions across the board.”

According to Brown, abandonment of the GCC is partly in response to the mounting evidence of global warming, including the fact that the 15 warmest years of the last century occurred since 1980, and that the Arctic ice cap has shrunk by 40% in the last 35 years. There is now growing acceptance among key energy companies that the world is in the early stages of transition from a carbon-based to a hydrogen-based energy economy, says Brown.

“What is clear is that the organisation that so effectively undermined US leadership in Kyoto is no longer a dominant player in the global climate debate,” said Brown.

GCC declined to comment.

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