Government fires industry climate change warning
Wednesday October 5, 2005
British industry cannot carry on with "business as usual" and must
take action to curb greenhouse emissions, government officials said
Alan Johnson, the trade and industry secretary, told company
executives at a London conference on climate change that they needed
to modify their thinking on energy use.
"The smartest companies know already that business as usual isn't an
option, and to succeed in a carbon constrained world it makes sense
to invest and think differently about their energy use," Mr Johnson
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the employers'
organisation, agreed it had a role to play.
"Business recognises and shares this concern about climate change -
not just from an ethical stand, but also because the potential cost
of climate change could be highly significant," said John Sunderland,
the president of the CBI.
Mr Sunderland agreed that government and business must develop
practical policies to cut carbon emissions by 60% by 2050.
The environmental group Friends of the Earth welcomed the CBI's
approach, but urged it to push the government to do more.
"It should now join Friends of the Earth in calling for new
legislation to make the government legally responsible for
introducing a 'climate budget' (higher fuel and air passenger duties)
and cutting emissions by 3% every year," said Martyn Williams, a
climate campaigner from Friends of the Earth.
The two-day conference, held jointly by the Department of Environment
and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department of Trade and Industry
(DTI), will explore the frameworks needed to encourage investment in
energy efficiency as a business opportunity in a low carbon economy.
Margaret Beckett, the environment minister, acknowledged the
uncertainty affecting investment decisions, but said the signs all
pointed in one direction.
"I would like to suggest that the signals we have seen in 2005 point
in only one direction - a future in which there will be ever tighter
constraints on the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse
gases which are emitted to the atmosphere," she said.
Despite the CBI's generally positive statements, most companies seem
to be waiting for the government to take the lead. A survey from
CarbonNeutral, a carbon reduction consultancy, showed that three-
quarters of FTSE 500 directors would only seriously look at reducing
carbon emissions if taxes or regulation forced them to.
Although more than 90% of the company bosses interviewed considered
strong green credentials to be an aid to businesses, six in 10 said
their firm did not have a carbon emissions target that they were
aware of. Most of the 75 FTSE 500 directors questioned said they did
not expect any cut in their firms' emissions.
Tony Blair made climate change one of his top priorities at the G8
Gleneagles summit in July. The government claims to be a world leader
on the issue and Britain has been one of the few countries to stay on
target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to meet its legally binding
targets under the Kyoto protocol.
The UK is on target to reach its 12.5% cuts under Kyoto, but not the
much harder 20% cuts on 1990 carbon dioxide levels by 2010. That
pledge was set out in May's election manifesto, despite the fact that
ministers had conceded that with current measures the UK was not
going to reach its targets.
Energy statistics released by the DTI in August indicated that carbon
dioxide emissions are expected to rise by more than 2% this year,
when they should be falling by at least 1% a year to reach Labour's