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Copenhagen outcome ‘is no barrier to progress'

January 2010

CSR practitioners have been urged to shrug off the uncertainty created by last month’s failed Copenhagen summit and push on with better and more ambitious climate change strategies.

Various business groups and commentators have concluded that while it would have been desirable for a strong course of action to have been mapped out by the United Nations-brokered summit, the failure of politicians to produce a significant agreement should not be a barrier to progress in the corporate world.

The summit ended last month having set no binding global emissions targets and no indication of when emissions should peak.

The International Business Leaders Forum told EP that although Copenhagen has left  businesses ‘frustrated by the lack of a clear or stable framework’, there is still ‘ample room for practical action and innovation on the ground’.

Richard Lambert, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, took a similar line, saying the emphasis now ‘must be on those actions that don’t require global agreement and that bring economic benefits in their own right’, while Aron Cramer, chief executive of US-based Business for Social Responsibility, said it was now up to companies to ‘lead the way’.

Cramer added that this would mean trying to change consumer habits as well as dealing with their own impacts. ‘If you want to see if we make progress on this immense global challenge, look beyond Copenhagen to see which firms follow that path,’ he said.

David Metcalfe, director of Verdantix, a UK-based sustainability research company, conceded that the summit had reinforced ‘policy uncertainties’ and would make it harder for CSR practitioners to lobby for change within their organizations. He said CSR heads must therefore prepare to explain to their chief executives why carbon management is still a priority.

'Many CEOs will read the negative commentary on Copenhagen and believe it’s time to scale back carbon reduction plans,’ he said. ‘But smart sustainability leaders will be ready to explain that Copenhagen opens the door to US climate legislation as well as carbon regulations in developing countries. What’s more, carbon management is primarily about reducing energy costs and building brand value — and UN policies rarely figure in the business case.’

Metcalfe said executives responsible for energy and climate change plans should focus on national climate policies over the 2010 to 2011 period. ‘The absence of hard deadlines and a legal commitment at the UN’s negotiating table means they should focus on the business implications of national legislation like the carbon tax in France, allowance auctions in the European Emissions Trading Scheme, and the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in Australia,’ he said.




United Nations | Europe | Climate change

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