The statement organised by the World Economic Forum calls for "at least" a halving of global emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for climate change, intensifying pressure on the heads of the world's largest G8 economies, who meet in Japan next month.
The chairmen and chief executives, whose companies represent more than 10% of global stockmarkets, indicate that emissions reductions by richer countries will have to be much deeper than 50%, but insist that big developing nations, particularly China and India, also have to tackle pollution. So far the G8 has only said it would "seriously consider" a 50% cut.
"Climate change is not only a challenge, it is also an opportunity," says the statement. "A paradigm shift to a low-carbon economy by 2050 has the potential to drive forward the next chapter of technological innovation. It will require a third - this time a green - industrial revolution."
The statement calls for "strong leadership" and even higher targets from the G8 leaders. It also calls for an interim target, but does not say what that should be. "Fifty per cent is an average internationally and the G8 will have to show strong leadership and push for more," said Dominic Waughray, the Forum's director, head of environmental initiatives.
The move also reflects concern among businesses about high costs if there is no global agreement and they are forced to comply with many different national policies. "Probably we show more leadership than governments," said Caio Koch-Weser, vice chairman of Deutsche Bank, and one of the report's steering group.
Kathrin Gutmann, international climate change policy co-ordinator for campaign group WWF International called for a medium-term target of 30% for 2020 and much higher reductions by 2050, but welcomed the business leaders' move. "Given these are mainstream companies saying we need global action, and it has to be at least 50% by 2050, there's no excuse for governments not to go further," said Gutmann.
The CEOs' statement says the companies "accept the scientific rationale for urgent action". It adds: "While some uncertainties remain - applying a risk management perspective to the available information - we conclude that a responsible approach is for all leaders of businesses and government to take action now."
The companies call for a global cap and trade system, but also ask governments to use their vast spending power to favour low-carbon goods to encourage research and development and bring down costs, and recommend increasingly tough energy performance standards.
The statement, to be handed to Japan's prime minister Yasuo Fukuda, is signed by many companies with headquarters in developing countries, in an attempt to head off arguments that poorer countries should not be forced to cut emissions until rich countries have done more.
It also claims that the changes should help developing countries more "than any other sustainable development initiative in history" by giving them access to cheap energy.
© 2008 The Guardian