Walking the walk

Posted in: News and Updates

Those readers concerned that business is not taking climate change seriously enough might find some (probably small) encouragement from an article [ Walking the walk ] in the Economist which looks at European business and climate change.  It begins:

"SIX big European oil and gas firms called on June 1st for a globally co-ordinated price on carbon-dioxide emissions, to restrain the impact on the climate of burning fossil fuels.  It was a bombshell, in its way.  Five years ago no one would have expected the move: as producers of much of the world’s dirty fuels, their industry was disinclined to join forces and advocate accelerating the switch to cleaner ones.  'It is a sort of revolution,' says Patrick Pouyanné, the boss of one of the six, Total.  And it is not just the energy firms.  As world leaders prepare to meet in Paris in December to produce an agreement on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, attitudes towards climate change have altered profoundly among businesses of all kinds."

And the reason?  "The cost of not doing things is starting to be higher than the cost of doing them,” says Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch consumer-products maker. “Our motives are not exactly altruistic,” admits another European boss. “Our clients and stakeholders demand such initiatives.

The article then goes through a range of Europe's finest companies giving examples of initiatives and steps taken.  It ends with this, which given some clue as to what's going on:

"Green because good, not vice versa

However, it could just as well be that green firms are more profitable not because they are green, but because they happen to be better run; and that their shares perform better because investors see greenness simply as a proxy for good management. The six European energy firms calling for an effective carbon price acknowledge that if the Paris conference succeeds in agreeing on one, it will add to their costs.

But at least, they said, it would provide a “clear road map” for their future investment. The six are heavy on gas—it now accounts for around half of Total’s output, for example, up from 35% ten years ago. So they are hoping that carbon-pricing would lead to a switch from coal to gas—which they say produces half as much CO{-2} as coal, for each unit of electricity generated from burning it. The overall impact of all this on profits would not be known for years, says Mr Pouyanné. But, like others in Europe’s boardrooms, he has concluded there is no choice in the matter."

However, least we all get carried away, on the next page of the print edition, there is a sobering article on coal: Black moods.  It shows no sign of vanishing any time soon.  As I write this, UK coal burning for electricity is generating 1,555 kg of carbon dioxide every second.

Posted in: News and Updates


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