Ethical Performance
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CBI issues 'call to arms' on climate change crisis

January 2008

The chief lobbying organization for large businesses in the UK has for the first time pledged itself unequivocally to playing a major role in mitigating climate change.

The Confederation of British Industry says it now regards climate change as a national priority and 'a much greater sense of urgency is required' if UK targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are to be met.

Its new stance has been prompted by the CBI Climate Change Task Force, which has spent ten months looking at the issue. The task force has concluded that UK industry needs to change its approach fundamentally to reflect concerns about climate change - and that immediate action is required.

'The next two or three years will be critical,' said the report, which is signed by 18 chairmen and chief executives of large companies, among them British Airways, BT, Shell and Tesco. 'Failure to act now will mean that the costs of tackling climate change in the future will be much higher. The UK would also miss out on commercial opportunities that will emerge on the pathway to a low-carbon economy.'

The task force report, however, is short on specific targets. It says that large companies must, as a matter of priority:

incorporate climate change policies 'into their DNA'

redouble efforts to improve energy efficiency of transport and buildings

work with employees and the supply chain to reduce their own emissions

measure their carbon footprint and develop reporting systems to benchmark performance

develop low-carbon products for consumers.

Simon Bullock, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said the CBI's position was now 'almost unrecognizable from that of five years ago'. But he added: 'This change in rhetoric and thinking is very welcome, but it must be measured against real-life action and a change in the CBI's position on the ground and the activities of its members.'

Bullock suggested that this would require companies to review their lobbying for more roads and airports and their opposition to fuel and air passenger duty.

Richard Lambert, CBI director-general, said that members recognized what they had to do. 'This report makes clear that, in the future, businesses will have to be green to grow,' he said. 'We want there to be a greater sense of urgency about getting on with ... the business strategies that will enable us to move to a low-carbon economy.'

According to the CBI, the companies run by the 18 members of the task force together emit the equivalent of 370 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year - roughly one per cent of global emissions. They have two million employees worldwide and annual revenues of £1trillion ($2tn).

Ben Verwaayen, chief executive of BT, who chaired the task force, said the report had particular significance because it had been 'written not by evangelists but by business people' and was 'a call to arms for the business community'.

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