This month, we have heard two major calls from the business community for action on climate change.
Do these declarations demonstrate progress on climate, or are they just greenwash?
The Global Investor Statement on Climate Change was supported by 285 investors – banks, pension funds, investment funds and foundations – that collectively represent more than US$20 trillion worth of investments. They stated that:
“current levels of investment in low-carbon technologies fall far short of what is needed. Private investment will only flow at the scale and pace necessary if it is supported by clear, credible and long-term policy frameworks that incentivise investments in low-carbon technologies rather than continuing to favour carbon-intensive energy sources”.
They urged national governments to implement strong, consistent and well-designed renewable energy policy in order to attract investment in low-carbon energy, and also urged countries to commit to finding agreement in the international climate negotiations.
Additionally, businesses from 29 countries endorsed the 2˚C Challenge Communiqué, launched by members of the Corporate Leaders' Network for Climate Action (CLN), The statement was endorsed by companies as diverse as Shell, Tesco, Kingfisher, BSkyB, Unilever, Lloyds Bank and EDF. They called for international collaboration, effective market mechanisms, incentives for innovation, energy efficiency and urgent forest conservation.
“We must continue to focus on this as we move out of economic turmoil, and not let short‐term concerns, however important, drive climate change off the agenda.”
Both of these statements drive home a clear message: the community of people who want action on climate change stretches far beyond the activist circles. A broad range of businesses and investors – just like Greenpeace and our supporters – want governments to put in place the rules, regulations, and policies we need, so that we can all transition away from fossil fuels as fast as the science requires.
However, does this mean that all the signatories are going green? Far from it.
Any business statement on climate change with oil companies or energy utilities on it should come with a major health warning. Each company needs to be judged on their actions, not their words and declarations.
These sorts of business statements happen every year, and they have some value, as a declaration of ‘willingness to act’. However, what we need is a demonstration of that willingness – real changes in business operations, or serious investment in advocacy to achieve policy change – which requires far more effort than just signing a declaration.
Some of these companies are making great steps forward – we know from our discussions with them companies like Unilever and Puma are really striving to lead their industries by example.
However, some of these companies are using these statements as Greenwash.
For two weeks of the year – usually in the lead-up to the UN climate meetings every December – companies like Shell and EDF (Electricite de France - a nuclear giant) will sign on to these types of broad statements in order to create a ‘responsible’ image, but for the other 50 weeks of the year they are lobbying governments to undermine the very policies that we need to shift the world to true renewable energy solutions. They will do this either directly, or through their participation in organized business lobby groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce and Business Europe.
Business Europe, for example, lobby against a 30% emission reduction target in Europe, fear-mongering that it would result in de-industrialization, despite EU commission reports that there would be economic benefits. The US Chamber of Commerce has had such a negative stance on climate change legislation that many members have left the Chamber in protest.
For companies who are members of such lobby groups, but who sign-on to positive statements like those released this month, it seems that the right hand does not know what the left is doing.
Holding corporates and governments to account for their actions – not only their words – and pushing them to do better, is of critical importance. This is what Greenpeace aims to do with every campaign, and with the '99%' movement in full swing across the world, these companies have every reason to take notice.
So, do these statements represent progress on climate politics, or are they greenwash?
A little bit of both.