The Bottom Line Published December 15, 2011

Tackle climate change at the individual company level
By MICHAEL TOTTEN

THE good news about the Durban climate negotiations is they didn't break down; the bad news is that action was delayed for years. It calls to mind that immortal line of Samuel Beckett's: 'You must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on.' Once again, positive action towards capping and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions remain trapped in a classic game of Prisoner's Dilemma, whereby cooperation by all nations to reduce emissions to avert catastrophic consequences (win-win) is trumped by delayed cooperation (lose-lose). Unfortunately, there is no delay in the rise of global CO2 emissions. In fact, emissions are exceeding the worst case scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Society is now on a path of increasing the planet's average temperature by 5-7 degrees Celsius this century - a catastrophically high and rapid change unprecedented in the history of Homo sapiens. Consequences include desertification of roughly a quarter of global agricultural lands (half in Africa), the death of most coral reefs and poisoning of marine life from ocean acidification, as well as largely irreversible changes in global ecosystems for 1,000 years after emissions stop. According to a report by the International Institute for Environment and Development and the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, cost estimates from climate change impacts are projected to exceed US$1,200 trillion. Until these scientific warnings compel government negotiators to actually cooperate in implementing global climate solutions, it is incumbent upon all of us to realise that profoundly positive and powerful climate actions can happen in a direct, effective route by the private sector. Indeed, it is in the best interest of businesses to become climate positive, as their business processes and supply chains are the first to bear the brunt of climate impacts. Legendary business leader Pasquale Pistorio, CEO of STMicroelectronics (STM) till 2005, pioneered zero net GHG emissions when he announced in 1998 STM would become so by 2010. And it would be achieved while greatly expanding global business. How did it accomplish this? STM began by reducing emissions through efficiency gains in energy, water and resource use. Within five years, STM accrued more than US$1.1 billion in savings with a 670 per cent return

on investment. Then, STM used some of these savings to begin shifting to renewable energy options. Third, it applied some of the savings to offset the remaining CO2 emissions through reforesting 10 million trees on four continents. For Pistorio, it was all part of total quality management and corporate social responsibility. In 2004, Conservation International (CI) was invited by Walmart's chairman to help the world's largest retailer become an environmental sustainability leader. Within 24 months of beginning the initiative, multi-billion dollar savings in reduced packaging was discovered, as well as multibillion dollar fuel savings by improving the efficiency of the truck fleet. Walmart has a target of becoming 100 per cent powered by renewable energy, and donated US$35 million to protect biodiversity landscapes to offset the footprint of its 80,000 hectares of buildings and parking lots. Then-CEO Lee Scott announced: 'We believe every company has a responsibility to reduce GHG as quickly as it can. Walmart can help restore balance to climate systems, reduce GHGs, save money for our customers, and reduce dependence on oil.' Walmart gives preferential shelf space to products with lower CO2 footprints, and is working with supplier chain to help shrink 20 million tonnes of CO2 emissions through efficiency savings. STM and Walmart are demonstrating what most corporations, as well as cities, schools, and civic institutions can similarly achieve. Both Dell and Disney were inspired, partnering with CI to shrink their CO2 footprints with efficiency gains and offsetting CO2 emissions by preventing deforestation of threatened rainforests. Disney donated US$4 million to protect threatened gorilla habitat in the Congo, and Dell contributed US$2.75 million to protect threatened lemur habitat in Madagascar. The funds were used to help local poor communities develop sustainable livelihood alternatives to burning down the forests. Adopting a 'climate positive, earnings positive' strategic portfolio made sense before we knew about life-threatening climate threats; now, it is the only sensible hope we have of avoiding the misery that inaction will bring upon us. As scientist Jared Diamond vividly recounts in his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, many past civilisations collapsed simply because they could not choose to cooperate and break out of their Prisoner's Dilemma. Surely, the power is within each of us to break free. The writer is senior adviser, Conservation International - Singapore
Copyright © 2010 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

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