Minister, ladies and gentlemen, I am anxious to be following Pen Hadow who speaks so brilliantly and who lays down the challenges and dangers we face so clearly. I am so grateful to him for taking the trouble to talk to us from the Arctic. It is extraordinary that this is already the 3rd May Day business summit on climate change, and even more so, perhaps, that there is anybody here at all!
I know there are many of you with us today who have been here from the very beginning and I cannot tell you how impressed I am that you have stayed the course. It shows a real understanding of the gravity of the situation we face. But I have been reflecting a good deal recently on how on earth I can make – we can all make – the message about climate change sufficiently fresh and new so that none of us flags in our efforts to tackle it and we can continue to spread the message to those who, unbelievably enough, are still sceptics. I know it is difficult, not least because the economic situation is making life so much harder for so many. For you, as business leaders, I realize your plate must seem very full indeed at the moment …and yet, here I am adding to it….!
When I started this exercise I chose the name with care because as any mariner or aviator will know, ‘Mayday’ is the most urgent international distress call. Three years on, despite the efforts of many in this room and beyond, that global distress call has gone largely unanswered, which perhaps is hardly surprising given the human propensity to prefer to hit the proverbial brick wall before taking the necessary preventative action. The trouble is that in this case, it is a rapidly approaching brick wall that will be unable to recover from if we hit it – despite all our clever technology. So am I being unnecessarily pessimistic? I don’t think so – but you don’t need to take my word for it. You have just heard from Pen Hadow and from John Ashton and, only the other day, Nick Stern, whose seminal report was a turning point in the debate on climate change, gave his starkest analysis yet of the problem. He said that wars, famines, floods and hurricanes would wreak havoc unless greenhouse gas emissions were controlled. His view is that society has not even begun to understand the extent of the problem and this is totally echoed by the world-famous Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, where Albert Einstein used to work and which I visited yesterday in Germany. I’m afraid to say I agree with him and them – which is depressing, to say the least.
At the risk of sounding like a malfunctioning C.D., I can only repeat his prediction that a four or five degree rise over the next 100 years, which is now looking more likely unless urgent action is taken, would result in collapses in crop yields, rivers drying up and perhaps billions – yes billions - of people being forced to leave their homes. And what would be the implication of that? In Lord Stern’s own words, “extended social conflict, social disruption, war essentially, over much of the world for many decades.”
I remember giving a lecture at Cambridge some 16 years ago on the subject of Global Security, when I was invited to come and talk to a programme they had there in which I included similar concerns. Of course, as always, I was considered mad, or anti-science, or anti-progress, or something. People, I suppose, get fed up with warnings of dire consequences and taking the precautionary approach is considered to be unprogressive.
However, I said when I was in Brazil just two months ago that we had 100 months left in which to take the necessary action. I don’t know if you have ever studied the May Day logo, but you will see that it is a dandelion with the last few seeds being blown away. The idea was to symbolize the doomsday clock as we fast approach midnight. Well, ladies and gentlemen, now we have ninety-eight months left – and that doomsday clock ticks relentlessly and unforgivingly onwards. That is what gives, or should give, such urgency to the work we are doing here today and which you will do when you return to your boardrooms.
Because I do believe that, if we – all of us – strain every sinew, we can perhaps arrest the worst effects of climate change. Even Lord Stern said that he is more optimistic than he was two years ago that the crucially important, and it is crucially important, Copenhagen summit in December will deliver the necessary international agreements. But it is going to take Herculean efforts from each and every one of us – because only by acting together, across sectors and in ever increasing numbers can it be made abundantly clear to political leaders around the world that there is massive support for the necessary, urgent decisions to be taken.
And if I might say so, this is why I am absolutely delighted that such is the success of the May Day network - there are now for instance a thousand businesses and other organizations from across the UK as active members - that we, too, have become international. Today we have varying degrees of involvement from Canada, Chile and Australia, as well as from several of BITC’s European partner organizations and from the Commonwealth Foundation. This is hugely encouraging and I will very much look forward to hearing how all of these initiatives progress in tackling this most global of issues.
Now, if you can bear it for a moment, I just want to spend a few moments reviewing the progress of our work under the May Day umbrella.
The good news is that over half the May Day Network has responded to my request to send their carbon footprint figures and stories to Business in the Community. Since one of the most important features of the Network is collaboration, no-one need feel they are alone on this particular journey. That is why we have just launched the May Day Journey – a free online resource that really should be the first point of call for any business – of whatever size – looking to take effective action on climate change. The Journey works through the May Day pledges, signposting where help is available from partner organizations like the Carbon Trust and openly sharing the experiences of others.
There are, however, still a large number of Network businesses that have not given us their carbon footprints or stories. We are in this together, so I can only urge you, please, to provide this information. For small businesses, in particular, it is especially important to measure where your emissions are coming from as until you have taken that vital first step, you will not be able to target your efforts sensibly, nor to track progress. And please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is all about extra costs. I know from my own experience that a large part of a carbon footprint comes from the energy we use, so a bit more efficiency there means not only a smaller footprint, but also smaller bills, which has to be an attractive option.
And let me just give you one example of where May Day has saved a company money. Chime Communications decided to stop using bottled water in its offices and instead installed a water-purifying machine. In just one year, it saved £55,000 and saved the carbon used in the production of the bottles and their transportation. I’d love to quote endless other cases. I saw the list and am extremely impressed by what you’ve achieved.
My real concern though, is that if businesses – of whatever size – are not reporting their carbon emissions they probably aren’t measuring them, and if they aren’t measuring them then they can’t possibly claim to be managing them downwards. This, I would have thought, ought to be a concern to their boards of directors and their shareholders, let alone their customers.
So I have a very simple message for every CEO.... Until you are both measuring and reporting your carbon emissions, I am afraid you cannot expect anyone to believe you are serious about playing any part in tackling climate change. And by the way, you are being left behind – a long way behind – by the businesses, identified by the Carbon Trust, who are not only doing those things but achieving real, verifiable, year on year reductions in their carbon emissions. That has to be the only acceptable response to the challenge we are facing.
Now, having said all that, throughout the day we will be seeing and hearing about just some of the many admirable examples of collaborative action within and between businesses that epitomize the spirit of the May Day Network. Sector collaborations aren’t easy to build or steer, but they are particularly effective because there is safety in numbers, and because no-one really wants to be left behind.
There are now established sector initiatives in a variety of industries including the legal, pensions, insurance, travel and tourism, publishing, music and bus sectors. The property and construction sector seems likely to join the list and the Food and Drink Federation is doing sterling things through its Five Fold Principles. In professional terms, it is very good news that the Marketing Society Alliance is seeking to create a common language for businesses to use in engaging consumers more effectively on this topic. These are all significant initiatives and I do congratulate everyone involved for the effort they put into this.
There has also been some encouraging progress in collaboration across sectors on specific issues - like finding carbon-efficient ways to deal with waste. Of course, we need to produce less waste, full stop. But we also need to see everything that we do throw away as a valuable resource which might be the raw material for some other product, or a source of energy waiting to be unlocked. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has done some interesting work on this and I am hoping that BITC members can assist in taking it further, not least by encouraging greater use of anaerobic digestion. Therefore, I am delighted that Philip Green of United Utilities, who chairs BITC’s Environment Leadership Team, and Mark Price of Waitrose, who chairs my Rural Action Programme, are working together on this and I am hopeful there will be some encouraging news soon…if the two of them can survive the appalling strain I put them under!
Collaboration and leadership really are at the heart of everything that the May Day Network aims to achieve, and I hope you will take my word for it that there have been inspiring examples from across the UK. I fear I simply can’t mention them all! But, you know who you are; I know who you are – and I congratulate you all.
It is clearly vital that we continue to grow the Network and encourage more businesses, particularly the smaller companies that lie at the heart of the UK economy, to follow your lead. And it doesn’t just need to be businesses. I am very pleased to be able to report to you that all of my Prince’s Charities are now part of the May Day Network and are sharing ideas on how to progress along the climate change journey.
There is much work for business to do at the international level too and, with all eyes on the Copenhagen summit, it is crucial, as I said earlier, that the world leaders enter into those negotiations with the views of the responsible business community ringing in their ears. I know that Polly Courtice will have more to say about this later.
We need those delegates to hear from business that you understand how the consequences of climate change are far more serious and long-lasting than the economic challenges we face today and that you understand how the long-term health and stability of the global economy is dependent on the health and stability of the global environment, and not the other way round. This is absolutely crucial.
That is precisely why I, like many others, have come to the conclusion that the first and essential step in the battle against climate change is to help Rainforest Nations curb tropical rainforest destruction.
Fortuitously, curbing tropical rainforest destruction also has other important advantages such as protecting the world’s water and therefore food supplies, alleviating poverty, conserving vital biodiversity on which we all depend on ultimately for survival, meeting many Millennium goals and providing a financial stimulus to Rainforest Nations’, and therefore the world’s economy.
That is why I set up my Rainforests Project with the help of some of the best brains in the business world, on a nothing ventured, nothing gained basis. Some may call it interfering, Julia Cleverdon calls it motivating! Following exhaustive consultation with the private, public and N.G.O. sectors over the past eighteen months, and working with experts in the various relevant fields, we have been attempting to develop a solution.
I hope that all businesses will think about what they could do to help with this fundamental issue. You will notice that you all have pledge cards cunningly placed in front of you – my Rainforests project team would be extremely grateful for your support as we simply have to create a global campaign on this issue in the run-up to the Copenhagen meeting.
Ladies and Gentlemen we need to be much more ambitious, and quickly, because the one commodity we do not have is time. What else can you do to help? Well, for what it’s worth, one of the really important things we must do is grow this network and quickly. The best way to do that would be for each of us here today to recruit another ten members – or more.
Whether they come from the ranks of your supply chain, your clients and customers, or your competitors, is immaterial. The important thing is that they should sign up and get started on the journey – with your help and the support of the rest of the network. That way we could make a much bigger difference while there is still time.
Looking ahead, I fear that historians and our grandchildren will not care very much about whether in these early decades of the 21st century we managed to sustain 20th century-style economic growth. What they will be far more concerned about is the state of the Earth’s climate that they inherit from us and whether it can provide them with sufficient food, water and stability. Ensuring that we deliver them that legacy seems to me to be not only our most urgent priority, but also our greatest opportunity and indeed our duty.