WASHINGTON -- The chief executives of 160 largest United States companies released a new policy statement on climate change here, Tuesday, warning that ''the consequences of global warming for society and ecosystems are potentially serious and far-reaching'' and asserting that ''the time for action is now.''
Without endorsing mandatory measures to curb greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions that contribute to warming, the Business Roundtable (BRT) called for ''collective action that will lead to the reduction of GHG emissions on a global basis, with the goal of slowing increases in GHG concentrations in the atmosphere and ultimately stabilizing them at levels that will address the risks of climate change.''
''Today marks the first time that a broad cross-section of business leaders from every sector of the U.S. economy have reached a consensus on the risks posed by climate change and the need for action,'' said John J. Castellani, BRT president.
''The BRT's diverse membership stands ready to work with policymakers on proactive solutions that address climate change while sustaining economic growth,'' he said, noting that the statement was adopted by consensus of the group's entire membership.
The statement was hailed as significant by several environmental groups which said that it should encourage the Congress, which, under Democratic leadership, has begun considering a number of legislative measures, designed to limit and reduce future U.S. emissions and opposed by President George W. Bush, to move forward.
''They're basically acknowledging that there's going to be some kind of mandatory legislation, and that, in itself, is a big thing for the BRT to say,'' said Truman Semans, director for markets and business strategy at the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change, one of several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that have been working closely with major U.S. companies on legislative and regulatory schemes for reducing emissions.
''It's important to understand that a statement like this tends to reflect the lowest common denominator,'' he added, ''and the fact that it states that some of their membership support mandatory approaches to reducing emissions tells you that the average view of the group as a whole is more progressive than what you're reading in the statement.''
''It is indeed notable that the voice of the establishment business community in this country is moving at least a few steps towards embracing the reality of this issue and the need to take action,'' said Christopher Flavin, president of the WorldWatch Institute.
''You can see it's a watered-down statement, but it's still an indication among others that the business community is moving quite rapidly on global warming and that even those companies, like Exxon Mobil, that have been most resistant are slowly pulling their heads out of the sand,'' he told IPS.
Indeed, the BRT, whose member companies account for 4.5 trillion dollars in annual revenues and represent nearly a third of the total value of the U.S. stock market, includes among its members the heads of a number of energy giants, including Exxon and Peabody Energy Company, the largest U.S. coal producer, that have actively fought any legislation or initiative aimed at curbing GHG emissions at the expense of fossil fuel consumption.
''It's certainly very encouraging that we see companies like Exxon Mobil and Peabody signing onto this statement,'' said Tony Kreindler of the Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC). ''And it's very significant that some of these members that feel the science is still evolving accept that steps (to address warming) should be taken now,'' he added.
Leading the effort to devise a new BRT climate-change policy were members who earlier this year launched the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), a coalition of initially ten major companies and several NGOs, including the Pew Centre and NRDC, that called on the Congress to enact mandatory cuts in GHG emissions.
The companies, which included Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar, Duke Energy, DuPont, General Electric, and Pacific Gas and Electric, among others, urged legislation that would reduce emissions to as little as 70 percent of current levels within 15 years and 80 percent by 2050. The number of companies that have since signed on to USCAP has since more than doubled.
Most of these reductions were to be achieved through a cap-and-trade system as well as specific legislation to mandate greater fuel efficiency and improvements in energy-saving technology for the transportation, power generation and construction sectors of the economy. Legislation currently being drafted by Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Republican Sen. John Warner reportedly incorporates much of USCAP's framework and goals.
As noted by Semans at Pew, one of the NGO members of USCAP, the BRT statement falls far short of the USCAP scheme, but it makes a series of specific policy recommendations -- such as creating a national registry for reporting emissions and adopting government policies that encourage early action and investment to reduce emissions -- that would facilitate the creation of a cap-and-trade system similar to that proposed by USCAP.
The statement noted that BRT members have differing views on the specific policy tools, such as cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, mandatory emission limits for fuels and products, to be used, and thus the statement takes no specific position on them. ''Some companies support mandatory approaches; others do not,'' it stated.
But it called on policymakers to assess the potential value of each by whether they are effective in reducing projected emissions, are flexible and maximize use of markets, encourage technological solutions, minimize complexity and transaction costs, provide predictability and certainty to business, and foster innovation, among other criteria.
It said all BRT members agree that more companies should commit to making emission reductions a priority and report on progress in achieving that goal; increase energy efficiency; and develop and deploy low GHG technologies which, it added, are vital to long-term emission reductions.
It also urged high levels of investment by both the public and private sectors in climate science so that ''we can better understand and predict the magnitude and timing of future warming of the planet...'' Despite existing uncertainties in the science, it said, ''steps to address the risks of such warming are prudent now.''
The members also agreed that challenge posed by climate change required a ''global response'' and could not be addressed by the U.S. alone. ''An equitable and effective global framework for addressing climate change should be put in place under which all major emitting countries (including China, Brazil and India) are committed to appropriate emission reduction goals,'' it said. ''...U.S. leadership in establishing this global framework is essential,'' it added.
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