Although the UK government's policies on climate disruption sometimes seem forward-looking and aggressive by American standards, many in Britain see them instead as timid and woefully insufficient. Among the voices calling for greater governmental action are the heads of 12 of the biggest companies in the United Kingdom. The CEOs and Chairmen of HSBC Bank, BP, Scottish Power, ABN Amro, and Shell among others have signed a joint letter (PDF) to the recently-re-elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, calling on the UK government to spell out an explicit and consistent policy agenda through 2025:
It is clear that the international community needs to stabilize global greenhouse gas emissions at levels that prevent dangerous climate change. We note the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s recommendation that in order to contribute to achieving this goal at the global level, the UK reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2050. We welcome the UK Government’s commitment to a reduction of this order of magnitude. As business leaders, our concern is with how we can help bridge the gap between today’s economy and the radically different low-carbon future that will be needed to deliver this target. [...]
Our companies and many others have already made significant investments in low-carbon technologies, processes and products. But what we have done so far is not nearly sufficient given the size of the challenge facing us. We need to create a step-change in the development of low-carbon goods and services by rapidly scaling up our existing investments and starting to invest in new technologies. To achieve this, we need a strong policy framework that creates a long-term value for carbon emissions reductions and consistently supports and incentivises the development of new technologies. Without such policies, our companies are not able to justify to our boards or investors the necessary high up-front investment in low-carbon R&D, technologies and processes.
These business leaders argue that emissions cuts sufficient to make a real climate difference can be achieved without harming the UK economy with a combination of higher efficiency of energy use and speedier implementation of new technologies -- both of which can be accelerated by appropriate government policies.
A couple of years ago, the idea that it would be big industrial leaders -- including energy companies -- calling for more aggressive policies regarding climate disruption would have seemed astounding to many; today, it's no surprise. The recurring theme in these statements is the need for predictability in an uncertain future. Businesses hate uncertainty, as uncertainty=risk, and risk=costs. Recognizing that environmental uncertainty can only be hedged with more knowledge, a growing number of companies are trying to achieve some certainty in an arena that has more opportunity for control -- governance.
But beyond that, businesses are starting to recognize the profit-making aspects of sustainability. Ecomagination is just the most recent of a series of scales-falling-from-eyes moments in mainstream corporations. Efficiency and sustainability provide a far better platform for future survival and growth than does profligacy. But shifting to a high-efficiency production structure can be complicated -- and that's where consistency and predictability of governance becomes critical.