With negotiations on climate change policy stalled, some major
corporations are setting their own environmental policies
...the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty addressing
climate change, has been just a guest star on the world's
political stage, capturing momentary attention but then
quickly fading into the backdrop. The reason: the protocol will
not become a permanent fixture until 55 countries ratify it. To
date, only three countries, ... have done so.
... The Kyoto Protocol, negotiated in December 1997, set targets
for developed countries to reduce their emissions of the
greenhouse gases most scientists believe have contributed to
increases in average global temperature over the past century.
... the U.S. is not bound by the treaty unless the Senate
ratifies it. Opposition to the treaty is so strong that the
Clinton administration will not be sending it to Capitol Hill
for a vote anytime soon.
... what's a good environmentalist to do? Try pairing up with a
major oil company or automobile manufacturer. For instance, the
World Resources Institute (WRI), an environmental organization
based in Washington, D.C., recently entered just such a
partnership--the "Safe Climate, Sound Business" initiative--with
the oil and gas company BP Amoco (formed by the merger of
British Petroleum and Amoco), automaker General Motors and the
agriculture and biotechnology firm Monsanto.
... the group has called for businesses to measure and report
greenhouse gas emissions, to work to reduce and sequester
emissions, and to include global climate considerations when
making investment decisions. The partners also suggested that
governments eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels (the U.S.
government provides an estimated $9 billion in annual subsidies
to the oil industry) and increase support for basic research on
Now all four organizations are implementing the business
recommendations internally, starting with the measurement of
their emissions of greenhouse gases. In addition, over the next
few years, the companies will start reducing these emissions. BP
Amoco has set a goal of lowering its output of greenhouse gases
by 10 percent from 1990 figures by 2010. General Motors aims to
cut its total energy use by 20 percent from 1995 levels by 2002.
And Monsanto is studying how certain agricultural practices
might increase sequestration of carbon in soil.
What is Monsanto's rationale here?
I suspect the consensus here will be that these are token gestures,
but could it be that there are people with these organizations that
are working to change them? Even if true, surely the degree to which
they will be allowed to take measures that affect the companies bottom
line is not entirely within their control, to put it mildly.
I read on:
Kenneth E. Blower, director of health, safety and environment at BP
Amoco, says the company's decision to address climate change on its
own and in collaboration with WRI and the Environmental Defense Fund
was a business one: "We want to be early into this [issue]--this
will be valuable to stockholders in the long term."
Indeed, the company did start talking about global warming early on,
at least compared with many in the oil industry who continue to
dispute that human activity has had any impact on global climate. In
a speech at Stanford University in May 1997, John Browne, the chief
executive officer of what was then just British Petroleum,
acknowledged that "there is a discernible human influence on the
climate and a link between the concentration of carbon dioxide and
the increase in temperature." Browne later described the reaction he
received from others in the oil industry: they saw it as "'leaving
the church,' as one particular commentator suggested," he said.
But if BP Amoco was the first major firm out the climate change
door, others are now following. Royal Dutch Shell joined BP Amoco in
leaving the Global Climate Coalition, an industry organization that
has lobbied heavily against the Kyoto Protocol. The two have signed
on with the pro- treaty group, the International Climate Change
Partnership, which in the past year has doubled in size to more than
40 companies. (All this is not to say that relations between big
business and environmental groups are perfect. For instance, in late
January, Greenpeace filed a lawsuit to halt construction by BP Amoco
of the first offshore oil project in the Arctic Ocean.)
... Lester R. Brown, head of the environmental group Worldwatch
Institute, has observed a shift in corporate attitudes. There have
been some "fundamental changes," Brown notes, such as increasing
investments by the energy industry in wind and solar power.
"Corporations are doing some ingenious rethinking," he says.
"Something is happening in a way that has not happened before."
Any concrete comments? Anyone not entirely skeptic? Any basis for
(Center for Rural and Community Development)
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