Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome all of you to this May Day Business Summit on Climate Change. When I was serving in the Royal Navy – rather a long time ago now I have to admit – “May Day, May Day, May Day” was the distress call used in cases of emergency. It still is – and this is an emergency we face. I fear this event – which I am told is unique – is rather my fault – my own meddling fault! – owing to the fact I asked a marketing expert how the message about climate change could be spread more widely amongst the business community using the experience of communication experts.
Not knowing what the reaction would be, I cannot begin to tell you how pleased I am that so many of you – more than a thousand! – have taken time out of your busy lives to take part. You are all business leaders of real influence drawn from every sector and, with your help today, I am sure that we are going to make a real difference to combatting climate change in this country.
Having been President of Business in the Community for twenty-two of its twenty-five years, I do know the huge power that business has to do good. And this is why I wanted to hold this particular event – with the help of Opinion Leader Research – to mobilize as many companies as possible to take action and change the way they do business. No-one is here as a spectator and it is my hope that this is not going to be just another discussion. The crisis of climate change is far too urgent and discussion simply isn’t enough. The reason we are all here is because if the scientific consensus is right, we need to act very rapidly indeed.
Some of those here are already taking powerful and laudable steps to change the way they do business – and I hope we can all learn from them today – but some of you are, I suspect, still sceptical about the science of climate change. Some may feel, as in the story of the frog that was put into lukewarm water and gradually brought to the boil that warmer Summers may be no bad thing – until the water suddenly reached boiling point.
Or you may feel that when we have destroyed this planet we can fire ourselves off into outer space where, somewhere in due course, the necessary conditions for life will have been found. Others may be convinced of the science, but either feel the problem is too big for anything you might do to make a difference, or that it is for others to take action. Whatever the case, unless we in the more “developed” part of the world do more to reduce our carbon footprint – urgently – then why should others in the developing world do anything?
So the first part of today’s programme is about assessing our starting point, giving everyone a chance to hear some of the evidence and record your level of agreement or disagreement. We will do this with facilitated discussions at each of the tables, followed by some feedback.
Later, we will move on to explore the wider context, looking at the opportunities and threats posed to businesses, and the kind of responses you might each want to make. And I hope we will conclude by trying to identify specific actions for each business. An open exchange of ideas is what will make today a success.
The question, therefore, is what actions will each of you feel able to take? I know that, in particular, many of you who run the small and medium sized enterprises that are the backbone of this country’s economy, have quite enough on your plate already. But I hope today will show that everyone can do something, because business is not only a major contributor to climate change, but can also play a key role in tackling the problems and reducing their impact.
We will be discussing a long list of potential actions that businesses can take to tackle climate change and provide solutions, but the three key areas must be first, tackling the emissions for which they are responsible, secondly, encouraging their suppliers and business customers to take action of their own, and, thirdly, designing products and services which will help their customers to reduce the emissions associated with their use.
I also want to see if we can identify new ways in which companies can collaborate on issues of common concern. Let me just explain what I mean, because I know it goes against the grain of some people’s thinking. It seems to me that long-term success in any business is achieved at least partly through minimizing risks and building value. And neither of those things is going to be possible in the kind of unstable world that climate change will bring us. It just cannot be “business as usual”. Climate change is not just about whether we have longer, drier Summers in this country. It is about vast movements of people escaping either flooding or droughts; it is about uncertain production of food and lack of water and it is about increasing social instability – all these will have a huge effect on the world economy and so they will affect each and everyone of us.
I was reflecting the other day that in the 20th century we learned that to keep our economies growing it was necessary to invest in maintaining the social conditions necessary for that growth. We no longer argue about the importance of making investments in health or education or a social safety net – even though we will probably always argue about how best to do this. Now, in the 21st century I would suggest that we must learn to invest seriously in maintaining the environmental conditions for continued economic development – and that must surely start with a stable climate.
For me, today is already one of real optimism because to make this event happen, genuine collaboration between companies was necessary. Several leading companies and each of our Regional Development Agencies have joined together, with the Carbon Trust, to sponsor this Summit and I hope it will be the beginning of something lasting and worthwhile. And I am delighted to hear that the property and construction sectors are also gathering together today to discuss their responsibilities towards climate change – and what a difference could be made if genuine sustainable materials and traditional building techniques could be used in new buildings and if we could re-learn how to create liveable, human-scale communities…
Now just before we get started on our programme for the rest of the day, I want to leave you with three thoughts. The first is that if the scientific consensus about the scale and immediacy of climate change is correct, and there really can be no doubt at all that it is, then doing nothing is simply not an option. The second is that we can each, surely, do something to play our part in tackling the problem. Exactly what that might be, and how it might be managed within the constraints of running your own particular business should be clearer by the end of the day.
Finally, I would just like each of us to spend a little time thinking about the costs of not getting this right. I don’t want my children and grandchildren saying to me, “Why didn’t you do something when it was possible to make a difference and when you knew what was happening?” And that is why we are all here. We are doing it for those that come after us. That’s why it really matters and why I have minded for so long. We can do it, ladies and gentlemen – just think what they did in the last war... Things that seemed impossible were achieved almost overnight. Business has that power and can make a real difference, so I hope you will all find today’s discussions valuable, and enjoyable too, and I will look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas later.