NEW YORK: Heavyweight companies including General Electric and Citigroup joined forces Tuesday in a high-profile campaign against global warming, demanding that governments mandate caps on greenhouse gases.
The three-year-old Global Roundtable on Climate Change launched a new strategy backed by over 85 companies and groups including Air France, metals giant Alcoa, German pharmaceuticals maker Bayer and insurer Allianz.
“Global businesses are assuming their just place as catalysts for action on climate change. But action by business alone is not enough,” GE chairman and chief executive Jeffrey Immelt said at the campaign’s launch.
Companies can apply new technologies to tackle the problem but governments “must step forward with equal force,” he said.
The companies called climate change “an urgent problem,” with scientific alarm bells now ringing louder than ever.
Fossil fuel pollution will raise temperatures this century, worsen floods, droughts and hurricanes, melt polar ice and damage the climate system for a thousand years to come, the UN’s top panel on climate change said this month.
The Kyoto treaty against climate change is due to expire in 2012, creating pressure from corporations for policy action now to give them a solid basis on which to plan investment.
In a joint statement, the alliance called for governments to set “scientifically informed targets” to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are warming up the Earth’s atmosphere.
The companies said governments must put a price on carbon, and outline how best to boost energy efficiency and find ways of taking carbon out of all sectors.
Under Kyoto, developed countries are supposed to reduce their emissions by five percent by 2012 from 1990 levels. But the United States refused to adopt the pact, which also excluded big developing economies like China and India.
In the European Union, environment ministers agreed Tuesday to plans for deep cuts in greenhouse gases of at least 20 percent by 2020, and as much as 30 percent if other developed economies agree to do the same.
The EU has already pioneered a market to “cap and trade” greenhouse gas emissions among its companies. In the new Democratic-led Congress, several lawmakers have proposed a similar US market.
Many multinational companies want a global carbon market, to make the policy framework consistent wherever they operate.
“This statement is to show that there is a framework that could guide the post-Kyoto agreement,” said the Roundtable’s chairman, celebrated economist Jeffrey Sachs, who is head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
“We need all parts of the world to be engaged,” he stressed, noting that China is on course to overtake the United States as the world’s heaviest greenhouse gas emitter.
Alcoa, General Electric, DuPont and other corporate giants have already launched the United States Climate Action Partnership, demanding enforced change at the federal level in Washington.
“Of course, addressing climate change involves risks and costs. But much greater is the risk of failing to act,” said Alain Belda, the chief executive of Alcoa, the world’s leading producer of aluminum.
“I am convinced that we can build a global plan of action on climate change in ways that create more economic opportunities than risks,” he said.
The insurance industry is as vulnerable as any business sector, given the risk of damage from intensifying storms.
“Allianz believes it is already seeing signs that climate change is a serious emerging risk, and we expect it to remain a top-tier issue for the insurance industry for many decades to come,” top Allianz executive Clement Booth said.