I could not be more pleased that Jeff Immelt has agreed to deliver this year’s lecture to my Business and Sustainability Programme. Of course, he comes here as the Chief Executive of one of the world’s biggest companies and I was reading that they employ some 323,000 employees. I am delighted to say, one of the companies which has put sustainability at the very heart of its business model.
Back in the dim, distant past, I asked Cambridge University – my alma mater! – to run this Programme for me as I wanted to find a way of helping businesses understand the scale of the challenges that lay before them; to help them see that ‘business-as-usual’ was not an option if we were to confront the environmental challenges which were ahead of us. Now, of course, we are at last beginning to see these challenges from the point of view of delivering sustainable economic development linked to climate mitigation and adaptation, whilst recognizing that we can’t simply continue to live off Nature’s precious and finite resources without thinking about the consequences. In those earlier days it was extremely hard, as you perhaps can imagine to get the message across, but it was as clear then, as it is now, that business will have to change dramatically. The scale of that change was made very clear to me recently when I asked Professor Tim Jackson, from the University of Surrey, to speak at an event at St James’s Palace for a project called Accounting for Sustainability, I fear another of my initiatives, which is helping Finance Directors understand how to account for the resources they are using and the damage being done to Nature’s own economy. At that conference, Professor Jackson spelled out, in the clearest way possible, the scale of what lies ahead of us.
Today, for every dollar of wealth we create in the world, we emit roughly 770 grams of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels. If we are to meet our global carbon targets for 2050, and at the same time build an equitable economy in which an estimated 9 billion people can all aspire to rising Western income levels, this number has to drop to just 6 grams of CO2. As the economy continues to expand, stabilizing the climate could even mean turning that number negative. In other words, for every dollar of wealth created, by 2100 we will need an economy which is taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. Carbon intensities have been falling. But nothing like that fast. In fact, global carbon emissions have actually risen by 40 per cent since 1990.
So we really do need a dramatically different approach, and it is particularly encouraging that so many of the companies which are part of my Business and Sustainability Programme are putting forward the solutions we know we all need. Foremost amongst these companies is G.E. and I am much looking forward to hearing what they suggest…
I would just like to finish by thanking Jeff for coming to the United Kingdom especially to give this lecture and, if I may, to express immense gratitude and to thank some other members of my programme – Nestlé, ASDA WalMart and Skanska – for their help in supporting this evening’s event.
Jeff over to you.