Business Times

Corporate climate responsibility - Case for a green economy

By Uchita de Zoysa, Chairman – Global Sustainability Solutions

Failure at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in December 2009 to generate a collective agreement leaves us destitute on earth! And now we have to move ahead with greater caution and commitment towards a future through climate sustainability. This would mean that business and industry sectors too will have to acquire a greater responsibility towards their ‘Corporate Climate Responsibility’.

The President and Cabinet of the Maldives physically went 20 feet undersea in an attempt to draw the world’s attention to their climate plight.

1. The Climate Challenge

The Climate Challenge Facing Humans on Earth

Climate change is said to become the greatest challenge facing humans on earth. The phenomenon is associated with the rise of global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification and extreme climatic events. cientists warn that many of these trends will accelerate leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.

With the continued failure at the international climate negotiations to arrive at an agreement and the inconsistency in addressing the key global issues coherently, independent thinkers, scientists, activists and entrepreneurs are in search of a new movement to guide the people towards a better world. This is an attempt to engage all people in a dialogue towards collectively creating a better world.

Scientific Consensus on Climate Change

The International Scientific Congress on Climate Change concluded in March 2009 said that; “The research community is providing much more information to support discussions on "dangerous climate change". Recent observations show that societies are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change, with poor nations and communities particularly at risk.

Temperature rises above 2ºC will be very difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and will increase the level of climate disruption through the rest of the century”. Scientists say that even if the world today zeroes its carbon emissions, climate change will yet take place. In other words even if we stop burning fossil fuels and halt all carbon emissions into the atmosphere now, we will still have to adapt ourselves to a world that has already started heating-up.

Global GHG emissions due to human activities have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2004. Eleven of the twelve years, between 1995 and 2006, rank among the warmest years since 1850. In 2007 alone floods in India, Bangladesh and Nepal have affected some 30 million people. With climate change, the frequency of certain natural hazards is expected to increase. The poorest communities are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In Asia more than a billion people could be affected by a decline in the availability of freshwater by 2050.

Fate of the Maldives

On October 17, 2009, the President and Cabinet of the Maldives physically went 20 feet undersea in an attempt to draw the world’s attention to their climate plight. The archipelago is believed to go under water by the end of the century due to the rising sea levels. The government of Maldives has made an open appeal to the international community to adopt their nation but no global authority or nation has responded positively to this heart rendering call.

Choices of a Generation

Dr. R.K. Pachauri, Chairman, IPCC addressing the United Nations Headquarters, New York City, 24th September 2007 said: “A technological society has two choices. First it can wait until catastrophic failures expose systemic deficiencies, distortion and self-deceptions… Secondly, a culture can provide social checks and balances to correct for systemic distortion prior to catastrophic failures”. Scientific assessment shows that the world has to make a compromise on a 3% reduction in their GDP to achieve the 2ºC destiny and save the dangerous fate of humanity on earth.

2. The Right to Development Debate

Half of Humanity is under Poverty

While climate change is said to be the greatest challenges acing humans on earth, half of the world's population remains under poverty and is being deprived of their rights towards the basic human needs. Dr. Vandana Shiva in her book Stolen Harvest says:“The gain in yields of industrially produced crops is based on a theft of food from other species and the rural poor in the Third World. That is why, as more grain is produced and traded globally, more people go hungry in the Third World.”.

A Hypocritical Global Governance System

Poverty is a result of a hypocritical global governance system. Dr. Mohammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank says “poverty is not created by poor people. It has been created and sustained by the economic and social system that we have designed for ourselves; Poverty is caused by the failure at the conceptual level, rather than any lack of capability on the part of people.’

Wolfgang Sachs, German social scientist, said “in societies that are not built on the compulsion to amass material wealth, economic activity is not geared to slick zippy output. The economy is closely bound up with life, but it does not stamp its rule and rhythms on the rest of society. Only in the West does the economy dictate the drama and everyone's role in it”

According to the New Economics Foundation, to achieve a single dollar of poverty reduction, $166 of extra global production and consumption is needed, with enormous environmental impacts which counter-productively hurt the poorest most.

Right to Sustainable Development

Dr. Tariq Banuri, currently the head of the UNCSD, says “there is a broad consensus, articulated explicitly in all global conventions and agreements that developing countries have a right to sustainable development, that all other actions should be framed such as not to undermine or affect this right adversely in any way.”

Greenhouse Development Rights Framework

The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework says that development is more than freedom from poverty. It is about sustainable human development. GDRF codifies the right to development as a “development threshold” - which is emphatically not an “extreme poverty line', as in the $1 or $2 a day. This wellbeing threshold for SD rights as about $16 per day per person. 25% above this global poverty line, GDRF's “indicative” calculations relative to a development threshold is of $20 per person per day, or $7,500 per person per year.

3. Limits to growth and the green economy

Emergence of a Green Economy

The Global Footprint Network claims that today humanity uses 1.3 planets of resources, and at the current rate by mid-2030s we will need two planets of resources. In this regard the emergence of the green economy is advocated.

A Green Economy is one in which the vital links between economy, society, and environment are taken into account. The transformation of production and consumption processes will contribute to a reduction per unit in reduced waste & pollution. This will create decent employment opportunities, promote sustainable trade, reduce poverty, and improve equity and income distribution.

A New Green Deal

In response to the financial and economic crisis, UNEP has called for a “Global Green New Deal” for reviving the global economy and boosting employment, while simultaneously accelerating the fight against climate change, environmental degradation and poverty.

UNEP is recommending that a significant portion of the estimated US$3 trillion in pledged economic stimulus packages be invested in five critical areas:

Raising the energy efficiency of old and new buildings; Transitioning to renewable energies including wind, solar, geothermal and biomass; Increasing reliance on sustainable transport including hybrid vehicles, high speed rail and bus rapid transit systems; Bolstering the planet's ecological infrastructure, including freshwaters, forests, soils and coral reefs; Supporting sustainable agriculture, including organic production.

4. Corporate Climate Responsibility

Points for Corporate Climate Responsibility (CCR) Business as usual will not only deprive our future generations a better world, but business too will not survive the ill-fate. They need to understand and appreciate that empowered (out-of-poverty) consumers will create higher purchasing power. Then the emergence of responsible (eco-conscious) consumers will create more green markets for business to prosper.

CCR can be approached by integrating the following aspects in business practices; Reducing material consumption and waste generation Taking mitigation measures to ensure cleaner production Reducing energy consumption and improve energy efficiency Migrating to renewable green energy sources Greening the supply chain Engaging employees across the organizational structure to practice ecologically friendly work habits (e.g.: conservation of water and resources) Innovation and design for sustainable products and services

Going beyond the basic regulatory framework to promote sustainable enterprises. Assist the government in promoting a greener economy by lobbying for environmental friendly technology (incentives for clean tech and not dirty tech) Helping society achieve wellbeing by promoting sustainable lifestyle markets.

(The above is based on a presentation at The Management Club, Colombo)

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