By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 30, 2007
A sizable fraction of the international business community launched an effort to press for mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions yesterday, on the eve of a major round of climate negotiations set to begin Monday in Bali.
In an unprecedented show of solidarity, leaders from 150 global companies endorsed the idea of a legally binding framework in a statement published in the Financial Times newspaper.
Some of the world's largest firms -- including Coca-Cola, General Electric, Shell, Nestlé, Nike, DuPont, Johnson & Johnson, British Airways and Shanghai Electric -- said that the scientific evidence for climate change is "now overwhelming" and that a legally binding agreement "will provide business with the certainty it needs to scale up global investment in low-carbon technologies."
A separate coalition of environmental groups and U.S. companies, including Honeywell, Shell Oil and Pacific Gas & Electric, helped underwrite a report, released yesterday by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., that analyzes how much it would cost to reduce U.S. emissions significantly by 2030. The report, which examines 250 options, concludes that the United States could cut emissions by 3 billion to 4.5 billion metric tons a year through existing approaches and "high-potential emerging technologies" if the federal government signaled that it was determined to reduce greenhouse gases dramatically. That would represent a 7 percent to 28 percent reduction from the 2005 levels.
"At some point, we need to establish a clear national commitment," said Jack Stephenson, one of the report's authors. "You're probably going to need standards, mandates and financial incentives."
The report suggests that these reductions, which would rely on a significant improvement in energy efficiency, can be achieved at a cost of less than $50 per metric ton. Nearly 40 percent of these efforts would save money over the long term, the study says, and the measures would range from storing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to adopting no-till farming practices.
"Global warming is becoming a core driver for business and the American economy," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the report's sponsors. "McKinsey has drawn up an excellent roadmap. But it's up to Washington to get us out of the driveway. We have a chance to get this right, but the window of opportunity is very short."
In an interview yesterday with Washington Post editorial writers and reporters, James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, said the Bush administration is committed to reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, even though it opposes a mandatory, economy-wide carbon cap.
"We know enough to know we need to make substantial reductions in emissions," Connaughton said. "Then the question is: How much?"
Connaughton and John H. Marburger III, Bush's chief science adviser, said the president seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through measures that include making it easier for businesses to write off the cost of new equipment, pushing for more stringent fuel economy standards, and implementing new appliance efficiency standards.
"We're probably further ahead in actually doing something about greenhouse gases than most other countries," Marburger said.
But, in a news conference yesterday at Clarence House, the London home of Prince Charles, the business executives calling for a binding framework said that voluntary measures are not adequate. Representatives of 20 U.S. firms signed the statement, which was organized by the Prince's Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change.
"You may find it surprising that someone from business would sit here and talk about regulations," said James Smith, chairman of Shell UK. He noted that enforceable standards are necessary to "give business the confidence to make those long-term investments in lower-carbon technologies."
Tony Juniper, executive director of the British arm of the advocacy group Friends of the Earth, said the announcement in Britain yesterday was "remarkable" because businesses were so opposed to mandatory greenhouse-gas reduction targets when government officials were negotiating the Kyoto Protocol climate change treaty in 1997.
This announcement "couldn't be more different," he said. "These businesses get it. They see the threat of climate change, and they know that action needs to be taken, and that it makes economic sense to tackle climate change."
Special correspondent Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.