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Business World Urges Governments To Be Bolder On Climate Change

Nicholas Stern, the British government's chief economic advisor, recently launching the Stern report. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Peter Capella
Davos, Switzerland (AFP) Jan 24, 2007
Leading economists on Wednesday cautiously welcomed US President George Bush's proposals for a long-term cut in US gasoline consumption, as business leaders meeting in Davos urged bolder government action on climate change. "I think it is a movement in the right direction, there is a recognition of the link between climate change and human activity," said Nicholas Stern, the British government's chief economic advisor.

Stern recently penned a major report that warned of the dire economic consequences of climate change unless swift action was taken.

Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday promised to cut US gasoline consumption by 2017 and favour alternative fuels like corn-based ethanol. But it failed to meet growing expectations of federal limits on carbon emissions to match international ones, despite pressure from some states, leading Congressional figures and a group of industrial chiefs.

"You have to recognise what everyone is doing. The United States is doing a lot on technology, a lot on standards. But then of course we have to scale up our action," Stern told journalists at the World Economic Forum.

Dan Esty, director of the Yale centre for environmental law and policy, said Bush had taken "an important first step" in recognising climate change as a serious challenge.

"But I think there were a lot of people across America and across the world who would have liked to have heard a bit more in terms of leadership, to put in place incentives for change that will bring us to a different energy future," he told AFP. Esty and Stern were key participants in a debate in Davos that revealed strong support from the audience of predominantly business chiefs for government regulation to stimulate action on climate change.

Seventy-one percent said in a straw poll that they favoured regulation rather than leaving it up to market forces.

"We need to avoid the tyranny of 'either-or', we need both," said James Rogers, chief executive of Duke Energy, a natural gas and electricity supplier in North America.

Some of corporate America's industrial giants, including Alcoa, General Electric and DuPont, this week called for mandatory caps on businesses' greenhouse gas emissions, and trading of emissions permits.

The meeting of business and political elite in Davos was turning into the greenest ever, according to the organisers.

Dominic Waughray, head of environmental initiatives at the Forum, said there was "huge demand" from its business members for information on climate change.

"The companies represented at the annual meeting have a combined turnover of about 10 trillion dollars -- nearly a quarter of global GDP -- so catalysing their deeper engagement in this issue can only be a good thing for all of us," he said.

Business leaders said they needed a combinaton of bolder government regulation -- including caps on greenhouse gas emissions -- to put a price on carbon and stimulate a market for environmnetally-friendly measures.

Several panellists argued that fossil fuels were not properly priced in the United States. Petrol did not reflect its environmental costs while coal was propped up by subsidies or tax breaks, they said.

"Coal to me is like fast food in America. Yes, it's cheap, plentiful, but it's unhealthy, it ruins our land and it's largely uneconomical," said Vinod Khosla, a former founding chief executive of computer firm Sun Microsystems.

Stern dubbed climate change "the biggest market failure that we have ever seen."

In a report due next week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN's paramount scientific authority on the issue, is expected to reaffirm evidence of the causes and effects of global warming.

"I think there's going to have to be action within the next couple of years, the question is whether President Bush will step up and lead or if we have a new president step up in January 2009," Esty said.

earlier related report
Heating up: UN climate report to have global repercussions
by Anne Chaon and Richard Ingham
Paris (AFP) Jan 23 - A political timebomb is set to detonate next week, and the men and women priming the device prefer to wear sensible brown shoes or ties that look like socks -- and they rarely raise their voices above a reasoned murmur.

They are members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN's paramount scientific authority on the causes and effects of global warming.

In the alphabetti spaghetti of acronyms, the IPCC hardly stands out in the public mind. It stays quietly in the background, publishing its big work, an updated report on climate change, only every half-dozen years or so.

But its anonymity is inversely proportionate to its clout.

Indirectly, the IPCC gave birth to the 1992 Rio summit and the treaties that followed it, including the Kyoto Protocol on curbing greenhouse gases, and the world carbon markets.

What it says next week is likewise destined to ripple across the spectrum of human life.

It will hike pressure on leaders everywhere -- led by President George W. Bush, whose country is the No. 1 carbon polluter -- to put action on climate change at the top of their agendas.

"Time is running out," Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said in Paris earlier this month.

"The IPCC report will increase the sense of urgency. But that still leaves you with the question of how to convey that urgency."

On February 2, the IPCC will issue the first chapter of fourth assessment report -- a phone-book-sized volume on the scientific basis for climate change.

In a plain, neutral, objective text, this report is likely to say:

- global warming, mainly caused by unbridled burning of fossil fuels, is accelerating; - climate change, which had been widely expected to start decades from now, is already on the march, discernible through shrinking glaciers, the thinning Arctic icecap and retreating permafrost;

- an early consequence for humanity will be changed rainfall patterns, leading to heightened water stress, prolonged droughts and floods.

- if temperatures rise too much, this will add more greenhouse gas, currently stored in the ground, into the atmosphere, thus accelerating the warming.

- among other potential threats, depending on the future pollution level, are higher sea levels and more frequent violent storms.

"We are now on a timescale whereby, when we talk about 'future generations', they are already there -- they are the children who are in primary school or kindergarten today," said French climatologist Jean Jouzel, a member of the IPCC.

In its first report in 1990, the IPCC said there was evidence that concentrations of man-made greenhouse gases were increasing in the atmosphere and these would warm the planet's surface by trapping solar radiation.

That led to the creation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the 1992 Rio Summit, followed in 1997 by the Kyoto Protocol, the first-ever agreement aimed at curbing carbon pollution.

Its third and last report, in 2001, delivered the most emphatic warning yet, saying human activities caused most of the warming of the previous 50 years.

By 2100, the global atmospheric temperature will have risen between 1.4 and 5.8 C (2.52-10.4 F) and sea levels by 0.09 to 0.88 metres (3.5-35 inches), according to the pollution level factored into its computer scenario in 2001.

In one of his first acts in office, Bush abandoned the Kyoto Protocol, defending this decision in part by saying he doubted there was a scientific consensus about global warming.

Bush commissioned his own report from US scientists -- who then agreed with the IPCC's assessment almost to the letter.

Over the past six years, hundreds of studies, published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, have published a mountain of evidence about man-made global warming and its effects.

As a result, "climate skeptics" have shrunk to a tiny minority among scientists but they remain vocal, well-funded and influential in Washington.

Even so, many states in Bush's America are taking their own action on greenhouse gases and the once-solid corporate front that opposed a mandatory approach has fractured, with some of the country's biggest companies clamouring for federal regulation.

earlier related report
Anti-Davos group pans Bridgestone, Novartis with 'awards'
Davos (AFP) Switzerland, Jan 24 - A network of anti-globalisation groups on Wednesday awarded the Japanese tyre group Bridgestone and Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis its annual prize for the most irresponsible companies.

Bridgestone, which was nominated by a group of US environmentalists, received the Public Eye on Davos' global award for "conditions approaching slavery" in its rubber plantation in Liberia, the group said in a statement.

"Child labour and severe environmental damage are the order of the day," it added.

Novartis received the Swiss "Public Eye Award" for taking legal action in India challenging local patent laws, after being nominated by the Indian Cancer Patients Aid Association.

The Public Eye said the pharmaceutical group's action could limit access to cheaper generic medicines to treat diseases such as cancer in India and developing countries.

The alliance also made its first ever positive award to a company. The Swiss supermarket chain Coop was praised for launching an environmentally-friendly food brand that had helped to expand organic farming in Switzerland.

The Public Eye Awards are announced in Davos every year to coincide with the World Economic Forum gathering top business and political leaders.

The two Swiss groups coordinating the Public Eye, environmental NGO Pro Natura and developing world lobby group the Berne Declaration, called for legally-binding international regulations for corporate responsibility.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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