Image credit: Copenhagen Communique
There was a time when we environmentalists would routinely bash big business for standing in the way of real change. But with Wal-Mart pressuring suppliers to go green and even McDonalds installing EV charging points, the picture is getting muddier. Now a group of over 500 major international businesses including Nike, GE, HP, SC Johnson and many others have gotten together as signatories to the Copenhagen Communique - demanding commitment to massive CO2 cuts of 50-85% at the Copenhagen Summit. (Crucially, many small to medium sized enterprises are included too - including TreeHugger favorites The Bioregional Development Group.) So does this mark a paradigm shift? It is, of course, hard to say. On the one hand, the more major businesses stand up and say loud and clearly that economic growth cannot continue without huge cuts in emissions, the less excuse politicians will have for piecemeal solutions and half-measures. I think the first demand of the communique is worth quoting in full (we're not usually encouraged to quote large paragraphs - but this is important):
The agreement must establish a global emissions cap and long-term reduction pathway for all greenhouse gas emissions and sources, for the period 2013 to 2050 (with interim targets). These targets will need to be guided by science to ensure global greenhouse gas concentrations are stabilised below critical thresholds. When stating this, we understand that there is an emerging consensus behind an objective of limiting global average temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels and that this will require global emissions to peak and begin to decline rapidly within the next decade. Even this scenario will require a reduction of 50-85% by 2050, according to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the later the peak in emissions, the
greater and costlier the required reduction. There is nothing to be gained by delay.
It's this final sentence that is most important - "there is nothing to be gained by delay." The business world is demanding action - and it is demanding action now.
But let's not get carried away here. It's relatively easy to sign your name to a petition calling for action by others, and much harder to put your own house in order. From HP's recent run in with Greenpeace to Shell Oil's forays into oil shale (not to mention their core business of selling petroleum), I'm sure that none of the company's listed are anywhere near to 100% sustainable. But then neither are any of us.
The more each and every corporation aligns itself with the common good and the fight against climate change, the better chance we have of figuring out a solution before it's too late. (And a bigger stick activists have to beat companies with when they step out of line too...)
Of course, let's not forget there are those who say that capitalism can never be reformed, and a sustainable growth economy is quite simply an oxymoron. For them, any such communique is merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. And they may have a point. But given the dire state of the crisis we are in, if the current system can't be reformed then we need a convincing and reliable road map to something better. That's something I've yet to see on the scale necessary.
To paraphrase my post on gardening as the best metaphor - we need corporate do gooders, we need activists, we need politicians and we need the Freecyclers. The more folks we have moving in the right direction, the more chance we have that this will shake out for the better.