This has been a most encouraging day. Encouraging for me personally to hear so many business leaders respond so positively to the challenge of climate change, and surely encouraging for everyone ‘out there’ who is concerned as 91 per cent of the population are said to be by the threat that climate change poses to our way of life.
There was an overwhelming acknowledgement at the beginning of the day that climate change is real, that it’s caused by human activity and that it poses a major issue for individuals, for businesses and for Governments. There does seem to have been a real shift in thinking on all these points over the last few years.
But pushing buttons on key pads and agreeing that action needs to be taken is one thing. Deciding what to do is quite another, particularly for the people who lead businesses and have serious responsibilities - to their shareholders, their employees and their customers.
Addressing an issue like climate change largely invisible, somewhat nebulous, still rather unpredictable in its precise consequences, is not an easy decision, I know. But the evidence we heard from Sir Crispin Tickell earlier could not have been more compelling. I certainly felt there was a realization in the room that difficult though it may be - the longer we leave it before taking effective action the more dire the situation will become and the more desperate the measures that will be needed.
As we also heard earlier, one of the real concerns of the scientists is that climate change will begin to change gear and move ever more rapidly, making it even harder to slow down. But everything we do now will reduce that risk. And all good businesses know about managing risks.
One of the key themes I picked up from the feedback sessions here at St. James’s Palace was that whilst businesses are naturally keen on incentives, they are not averse to regulation. But whatever mix of incentives and regulation is provided, it simply has to be intelligently designed for the long-term, so that businesses have the consistency and clarity they need for planning their investments and their operations. Quick fixes are clearly not the answer! There has also been a consistent message that tackling climate change will bring new opportunities for businesses throughout the whole country.
There is, of course, a difference between the things any business can do for itself, such as using energy more efficiently, and the things that require a new framework to enable greater progress, such as establishing a price for carbon so that it is valued properly. That’s something I was interested to see came up for really quite an important priority for many of you. These things will be different for every sector, and slightly different for every business. But there has been a great spirit of collaboration here today, and some excellent debate, which I would like to try and extend. So I am going to ask my organizations already working in this area to be in contact with each of you to see what you could offer in terms of clever and committed people, examples of successful practice or just plain good ideas that need more work. Between us we might come up with some actions that could make a real difference.
At this point I do want to thank Doug Richardson, whose idea this was, together with Business in the Community, led by Jim Haywood, Opinion Leader Research, and particularly Viki Cooke, and we are hugely grateful to everyone at the Carbon Trust and our expert Advisory Group led by Jonathon Porritt for all their remarkable efforts that have made today such a success. And, of course, none of this would have been possible without the extraordinary collaboration of company sponsors, Regional Development Agencies and other partners.
But as I said at the beginning, today is not just one event. Tomorrow morning a new website will be launched www.maydaycompany.org.uk. On this you will find a report of the whole of today’s proceedings and signposts to practical support from BITC, the Carbon Trust and our partners. This might help those in the East of England and the North West who identified the importance of commitment from senior management and at board level!
Now you may remember that I said earlier that there were no spectators here today. So in the near future you can each expect a call as the team follows up the various pledges that each business has made, looking in detail at what might be possible and how we can help you make it happen.
Ladies and gentlemen, you must all be utterly exhausted by now, but this really is the most important issue facing us as a society and as a species. Let’s be clear, our planet will survive a high degree of climate change. Planets do survive. But only one planet as far as we know currently has the very precise conditions our species needs to survive. And, make no mistake about it, we are well on the way to destroying those conditions, and making our planet uninhabitable.
So this is not about saving the planet. It’s about saving us. And that is where each and everyone of us has a responsibility to do what we can. Right at the start I referred to “May Day” as the universal call for help. The point is that when it is heard everyone responds and the response I have heard today has given me cause for real optimism. It isn’t yet too late if we act now and together that way I know we can make a real difference. So thank you all so much for being here today and for your contribution and I will look forward very much to hearing about your progress in due course.