29 September 2014

Will capitalists save us from global warming?

In her latest book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, Naomi Klein argues that if we are to defeat climate change we must defeat capitalism. At this week’s UN climate summit in New York, a number of corporate leaders seemed determined to prove her wrong.

For example, a group of investment institutions that included pension funds and corporate asset managers promised to "decarbonize" their investment portfolios by $100-billion by 2016. This would mean divesting from investments in fossil fuels and palm oil plantations. Their motivation wasn't so much altruistic as pragmatic. According to Mats Andersson, CEO of AP4, a Swedish pension fund, "Climate change is more and more recognized as a financial risk." His conclusion echoes the report Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy issued by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate which came out just before the summit and claims that a low-carbon economy offers faster economic growth.

Another group of investment companies that manage $24-trillion in assets called for a global system of carbon pricing to reflect the environmental cost of emissions. Such a system, they claimed, would force them out of fossil fuels and into low-carbon energy.

And not only bankers were committing to a new world order. A number of companies that trade in agricultural commodities—including Unilever, the world's largest supplier of supermarket products, and palm oil suppliers Wilmar and Cargill—have recently committed to avoid crops grown on newly deforested land. At the New York summit, these companies joined governments in signing the New York Declaration on Forests, pledging to halve forest loss by 2020 and reach "zero net deforestation" by 2030. This is no small deal. Nigel Sizer, forest director at the World Resources Institute, said the declaration, "could result in more emissions reductions than removing every car, bus and plane from the U.S., China and India combined."

So let's not write off capitalism as a climate villain yet. When profits are at stake, and with climate change they are, capitalists will act in their own best interests. And as we all know, nothing speaks louder in the halls of government than big money. The corporate sector will almost certainly wield a bigger environmental stick with politicians than the 300,000 marchers in the streets of New York.

1 comment:

  1. Much too little, much too late, Bill. The IEA has put it bluntly - if we don't implement massive emissions reductions by 2017, we'll be locked into catastrophic climate change. The process of decarbonizing an economy and a society is a multi-decadal undertaking. That's time, unfortunately, we don't seem to have to spare.

    Nobody, no country, is working to a 3-year target or even a 10 or 20-year target of massive emissions reductions. If we were, Tony Abbott's coal mines would be shut down and Athabasca would not be extracting bitumen. The clock is quite likely to run out before either of those things happen.