One of the priorities must be to stop tropical deforestation, which is estimated to be responsible for about 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Only the power generation sector releases more. These forests are the greatest global public utility, regulating our temperature, cleaning our air and producing our rainfall. 

Today, more than 150 businesses from across the globe have joined together to advocate bold action to tackle climate change. Led by my Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change – in itself the result of the past 15 years’ advocacy by my Business and the Environment Programme – these companies have signed a communiqué addressed to the world’s leaders who will meet in Bali next week to discuss climate change. The signatories represent companies from Europe, the US, China and Australia. Their message is clear. 

They believe climate change is a reality, that continued economic growth depends on tackling it and that the costs of inaction are too great. They believe that rigorous targets must be set and be based on science and common sense, not on the demands of short-term competitiveness. They also believe that the industrialised countries will have to bear much greater cuts than developing nations and want the certainty of a binding framework so they can invest in new technologies and know that these will be good for business. This communiqué represents an unprecedented global corporate alliance. 

These companies are showing remarkable leadership and I can only congratulate them. It is the fervent hope of myself and the signatories that it will strengthen the resolve of those in Bali to make the tough decisions. It is worth stressing that if action is taken now we can stop the worst effects of climate change and do so at a cost that is a fraction of the probable cost of inaction. But the window of opportunity is small and growing smaller, and the threats are happening at a speed that is causing real alarm to scientists. Let me give just one example. 

Two months ago scientists noticed an unprecedented melting of the north polar ice cap. About 43 per cent of the total ice cap normally melts in the summer. This year 66 per cent melted. The Ice and Snow Data Centre in Colorado predicts that within the next seven to 23 years, the entire north polar ice cap will completely disappear in summer. Why does this matter? A lack of sea ice means that the world is no longer able to reflect as much solar heat as it used to and so the rise in global temperatures will accelerate. 

Despite this, there is no evidence that emissions are diminishing. Indeed, at best it is business as usual; at worst emissions are increasing because of economic growth and the burning of fossil fuel, particularly coal. What these signatory companies understand is that the effects of climate change are irreparable and permanent. The floods, droughts, rising sea-levels, spread of disease and poverty will be with us for ever. It is why it will take a massive effort to tackle it and why so much responsibility rests on the governments in Bali. 

They meet in the knowledge that a broad spectrum of private sector interests is urging them on. This is critical because we must harness the power of all sectors, public and private. Of crucial importance is the role of big capital providers, such as pension funds and insurance companies, and their ability to direct their investments towards delivering a low carbon economy. 

One of the priorities must be to stop tropical deforestation, which is estimated to be responsible for about 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Only the power generation sector releases more. These forests are the greatest global public utility, regulating our temperature, cleaning our air and producing our rainfall. 

As a matter of urgency we have to find ways to make them more valuable alive than dead. It is for this reason that, drawing on 23 years of involvement in corporate social responsibility, I have asked 12 of the world’s leading companies to help find an innovative, equitable answer to this highly complex problem. Many of us fortunate enough to have lived in the developed world since the second world war have grown up assuming that standards of living will continue to rise generation by generation. But climate change will not only halt this process, it will reverse it – and most probably for ever. 

There is no doubt that the fate of our civilisation hangs in the balance. If I have grandchildren one day, I could not bear it if they asked me: “Why did you not do something when it was possible to make a difference?” These business leaders have asked themselves that same question and have had the wisdom to recognise that we are doing this for those who come after us. Let us all join them by “stiffening the sinews and summoning up the blood” to overcome this unprecedented challenge.