Wake-up call for European industry and media

Corporate leaders and employees in the world of business and trade, and editors and journalists in the media world: You, not the politicians, hold the key to saving this planet — and your own children — from a climate catastrophe. Read on, and I will tell you why. And what you should do about it.

On 10 April, 33 major brands in American business showed a new path when they published a remarkable ‘Climate Declaration’.

Where does this initiative leave the European business world? Will they be quick to follow the example and endorse a similar European ‘Climate Declaration’? Will they join the American companies in creating a trend which potentially could turn into a long-missed recipe for how humanity can combat the scary problem of carbon-caused global warming and future climate catastrophes? Sadly and strangely, no. It does not look that way.

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard. Photo: courtesy of schoolvoorjournalistiek.com
EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard. Photo: courtesy of schoolvoorjournalistiek.com

Up til now, Australians and Americans have been seeing European countries like Denmark and Germany as a bold role models in its movement towards renewable energy. But what has been exposed openly recently is that inside the country of Denmark, embarrassingly to its political leaders who are busy promoting the country’s ‘green’ reputation globally, a battle is taking place within the members of a powerful and profit-hungry business confederation which, as it is typical for most fossil fuel advocaters around the world, only thinks about their own short-termed profits and will be only cheering if the European Union’s attempts to reduce carbon emissions of the 27 EU member states turn out to fail.

The European Union’s role in the fight against climate change depends on a vote which takes place today at noon in Europe. The 754 politicians from 27 different countries will vote on EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard’s rescue plan for EU CO2 allowances, a socalled ‘backloading’ system.

This may sound crazy, but it is true. First of all — the votes of just tree Liberal politicians from Denmark can end up determing the outcome of this vote, because the parliament, according to a recent test vote, stands at a tipping point where its 754 politicans are devided in two halves of almost exactly the same number. Secondly, these three Danish politicians allegedly are letting in to pressure from the Confederation of Danish Industry to vote no to Connie Hedegaard’s suggestion.

This is crazy.

Why? Because they claim it will be ‘expensive’ to the Danish carbon polluters who will have to pay some extra fees for their emissions. They have calculated that Hedegaards ‘backloading’ plan will provide an annual expense of 40 million euro to the Danes. Money which, sensibly, would be reinvested into safeguarding its population of its 500 million citizens against a CO2-inflicted climate catastrophe.

Hold on a second. Did they say a tax of 40 million euro to be split between all polluting Danish companies? What are they talking about? — I mean, that’s less than what the Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart earns for herself in profits in just one day. Last year she earned 41 million euro a day, according to freelance journalist Miles Heffernan. 40 million euro per year for creating incentives for companies in a whole nation to clear the air? When you put it in perspective, this is peanuts. It is even way too small an amount, when you think of it. In comparison, in the first quarter of 2012, just one of the many companies in the oil industry, Shell, boosted its earnings to over 60 million euros… a day.

No one in the Confederation of Danish Industry is talking about the trillions of euros it will cost the next generations to deal with the consequences of that climate change which the industry’s unrestrained emissions, according to climate science, are causing.

How do the Danes feel about this? Well, sadly again, most of them don’t even know about it, because the journalists in Danish mainstream medias are generally not concerned about climate change, leave alone climate politics. Not since the Great Climate Anti-Climax at the UN conference in Copenhagen in 2009. The public as well as the press in Denmark really would rather avoid hearing more about those problems with climate change, and so far only two newspapers in the whole country have been reporting about this embarrassment to their country which is rolling within the EU parliamentarian system.

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Speaking up
On Sunday, 14 April 2013, something happened, though. 42 European companies representing an annual turnover of 875 billion euro and 1,5 million employees placed an advertisement in the Financial Times where they strongly recommended that the EU-politicians vote for Connie Hedegaard’s rescue plan for the EU carbon-trade system.

The Danish companies Danfoss, Grundfos, Vestas and DONG Energy were lining up among those 42 companies, and in this way they were the first four Danish companies to officially speak up against the Confederation of Danish Industry, which they are all members of. The confederation is Denmark’s most powerful trade organisation consisting of 10,000 private enterprises within manufacturing and services covering virtually all sub-sectors.

The Confederation of Danish Industry is a member of the industry’s European umbrella organisation Business Europe, through which, according to the Danish newspaper Berlingske, the Danish confederation has worked hard to make sure that Connie Hedegaard’s rescue plan will be rejected by the parliament.

In beginning of April, Business Europe sent a letter to all members of the European Parliament, stating that “Business Europe strongly recommends you to reject the proposal of ‘backloading’, when you vote in the plenary,” and they warned the politicians against creating a heavier burden on Europe’s economy during the crisis.

In Denmark, leaders of the confederation use a lot of words when interviewed by the Danish press, but basically they are simply saying one thing. They are saying: We don’t think that the industry should pay for the carbon emissions it produces.

Troels Ranis, director of energy and climate policy in the Confederation of Danish Industry was quoted as saying: “It is an increased cost that will be bad for employment, competitiveness and growth in the middle of an economic crisis.”



Confused politicians
Two months ago, on 19 February, when the European parliamentarians made a consultative vote, the Danes in the parliament decided in the last minute to vote for the rescue plan, and the vote ended up showing a majority of only three votes for the rescue plan.

“The three Danish Liberal votes could end up tipping the outcome,” said the Danish member of the EU parliament, Jens Rohde, a member of the Liberal Party of Denmark, Venstre. He stated that he was personally in doubt about what to vote, calling the vote “a choice between two evils.”

Such a standpoint must be publicly criticized.

How embarrasing it is for a country which the world had come to see as a frontrunner in policies and technologies of renewables, a country which took the scientists’ warnings about the dangers of greenhouse gases seriously, that its politicans in a European context support the fossil fuel lobby groups and become determing for the obstruction of EU anti-carbon policy.


Create national ‘Climate Declarations’
The Danish government has a goal that Denmark’s share of renewables in energy consumption should reach 30 percent in seven years, by 2020, and the capital of Copenhagen has declared that it will work hard to become the first carbon-neutral capital in the world already by 2025.

Danfoss, Grundfos, Vestas and DONG Energy together with the Danish Chamber of Commerce should write and publish a corresponding ‘Climate Declaration’ as the one which the Americans have made, and then quickly send it to the Confederation of Danish Industry, demanding that the confederation instantly begins to show a little responsibility and leadership on climate issues, instead of trying to talk ambitions down and thwart EU plans for reducing carbon emissions.

Denmark has around 22,000 companies working in the fields of organic food, green tech, and renewables, that will all benefit greatly from higher climate ambitions in the EU system.

Who is the Confederation of Danish Industry, and Business Europe, to say that stopping emissions will be “bad for business”? Americans obviously thinks the opposite, and with due respect, Americans have before taken a stand and turned out to be right about it.

The level of ambition in Denmark as well as all of Europe must be raised, and both civil society and the business community must take charge of the situation now and show responsibility for our children’s future. Isn’t is as simple as that?

So here is a quick ‘translation’ of the American Climate Declaration, just as a first draft:

“Tackling climate change is one of the world’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century.

 

What the planet and humanity needs now is individuals taking a stand. Doing the things that are hard. And seizing opportunities. The very foundation of our country is based on fighting for our freedoms and ensuring the health and prosperity of our state, our community, and our families. Today those things are threatened by a changing climate that most scientists agree is being caused by air pollution. We cannot risk our kids’ futures on the false hope that the vast majority of scientists are wrong.


But just as our country rose to the great challenges of the past and came out stronger than ever, we have to confront this challenge, and we have to win. And in doing this right, by saving money when we use less electricity, by saving money to drive a more efficient car, by choosing clean energy, by inventing new technologies that other countries buy, and creating jobs here at home, we will secure our way of life and create successful development in a competitive world. In order to make this happen, however, there must be a coordinated effort to combat climate change — with companies taking the lead here at home. By working together, regardless of politics, we are able to create an energy reform for climate safety and a sustainable future for our children.”



How to mobilise awareness
In the Danish parliament, the chairman of the parliament’s Environment Committee, Lone Loklindt, along with a colleague recently published an invitation to come up with ideas on how to get the Danish population to wake up. Their suggestion was that it should be ‘pleasure and quality of life’ which should drive the transition towards a more sustainable society. The Danes should be softly pampered with delicious and attractive stories about how they can save money and live well — they should not be frightened with facts about how bad things stand at the moment concerning our CO2 emissions, and how grim the future looks if we don’t act very quickly to stop them. Because they are not listening to threats any longer.

I mention this just as an example. This is where Danish policy making at national level is at. A fast transition to renewables is going to cost some money. And this is not something any politician would be willing to impose on their citizens against their will. So they are wondering and brainstorming on how they can create more awareness in the population.

My advice in the meanwhile would be that those of us who are concerned about the climate issues once and for all must realise that we are wasting our time trying to get our politicians to act. There is no need to send them anymore letters or appeals. (More about why here). We will see far more results from using our energy to write action-oriented letters to and create inspirational guides for business leaders and consumers on how they can make all the difference by themselves.

At present, two things stand in the way for creating global climate safety:

Firstly, that there are many people who earn their living from producing or selling oil and coal — plus all the products that run on fossil fuels — to us. In the US alone, nine million people depend on the oil and gas industry, as shown in a study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Many of them have great political influence, because of the wealth and all the jobs they represent jobs. Oil and coal keeps wheels going in society as it looks today. More about this in this excellent article by Duncan Clark, based on the book ‘The Burning Question’ by Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark (to be published on 20 April).

Secondly, there is a small army of commentators who create misinformation and ‘noise’ in the flow of information on climate change. I have not fully understood why they are so eager to spread this message that climate change is a hoax. Whether they get rewards of the oil industry or if they do it on their own initiative. But because of this, we are still seeing between a quarter and a third of the populations in the Western world believing that climate change is not caused by carbon emissions, and global warming is a scam.

In other words, the professional journalists of the Western world all have a stake in this mess. The media has until now uncritically held the microphone for these people, because the scientific findings a complex and difficult to understand, and journalists of our time don’t have the time to actually study and understand such long reports in scientific language. So the journalists listen to the sceptics, and consequently, the politicians maintain the scepticism towards creating those changes in the energy sector which we need to see take place within just a few years time.

For years now, the climate sceptics have managed to keep the world community paralyzed. Because what if they were right? The answer to that is simple: by investing in renewables, what have we got to lose? Climate change or not — we know that oil and coal reserves run out at some point in the not too distant future. So why all this opposition to get through transition quickly — now that the technology is in place with regard to creating renewable energy? We get a cleaner air to breathe, and as a bonus we limit the threats of CO2 climate disasters.

The world famous climate sceptic Lomborg will say, “Yes, but if we wait ten or twenty more years, the technology will be better and cheaper.” And to that we must answer: “Absolutely right, Lomborg! But why should it be a reason not to act now, when climate scientists tell us that we have already exceeded the limit of what it is advisable to emit in the atmosphere? We can afford it, and if the will is present, we can adapt our society to completely stop using oil and coal, and save our and our childrens’ lounges from that smelling, poisonous smoke which pollutes our streets and our cities.”



It boils down to taking a stand
I would suggest, along with the general message of the American ‘Climate Declaration’, that time has come where also journalists must begin to familiarize themselves with these issues and take a bolder stand. The Unions of Journalists and the public service broadcasters in each and every country could be the bodies to confront this challenge.

We have 99,84 percent of all climate scientists on our side, and we simply can not waste more precious time on conspiracy theories and various home-made theories who think they can speak up against evidence from 14,000 different scientific reports which all say that we are heading for a climate catastrophe, and we need to stop burning fossil fuels into the atmosphere.

To cut a long story very short, and if you don’t want to read the reports, you’ll have to trust me on this: there isn’t a single valid argument that it would not make common sense to quickly switch over to renewable energy. A number of commercially viable energy technologies are ready — and they are still evolving rapidly. New discoveries are waiting to be put into production. Everyone in the renewables industry is just waiting that we as consumers start demanding them.

Common sense, and business flair, is also what drives the multinational companies that have signed and issued the American ‘Climate Declaration’. There is a growing sales in the sense of responsibility for the planet’s future.



Buttom-up movement grows strong
We are, in 2013, a growing group of people around the globe, who thanks to the Internet are beginning to find each other, support each other, encourage and inspire each other to act locally while we are thinking globally.

Assuming that about 10-15 percent of the population in Europe, USA and Australia are currently alarmed about climate change, and that this applies to the rest of the world countries too, then we are already 700 million people worldwide who are ready to act. 10 percent does not sound like much, but 700 million consumers do. In terms of business.

And most probably the figure is already much higher, because the inhabitants of the poorest nations in the world here in recent years has become more and more concerned about the melting ice at the poles and glaciers — and the related threats of floods, rising sea levels, drought and forest fires, starvation and ‘water wars’.

Which is why Quamrul Chowdury, as in the UN climate negotiations is the spokesman for a group of the world’s 49 poorest countries, says that the poorest nations on Earth have now decided to take the lead to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even if they are the ones who least can afford to do so. The 49 countries in the group, he says, are willing to act as a very proactive group. They will set an example by acting instead of talking. The least developed countries will no longer wait for others to take action.

Corporate leaders and employees in the world of business and trade, and editors and journalists in the media world: You hold the key to saving this planet — and your own children — from a climate catastrophe.

All you have to do now is endorse the new ‘buttom-up’ movement within civil society and the business world, and then begin to spread the message of national Climate Declarations like the one I wrote a draft for above: We must all do what we can inside our own premises first. Divert our homes, transport and work for renewable energy sources. Be alert and innovative. Just like the U.S. companies recommended in their declaration.



Lack of co-ordination
An important tool which the world is unfortunately still missing is a tool for global co-ordination between individuals and companies. This is a major obstacle. We need to get better in co-ordinating our efforts, we need to talk with one another other in the physical world, in the media, and over the Internet, and in this way promote the kind of networks that enables us to speak with an ever stronger and more unified voice about how to combat climate change through individual action — citizen by citizen, employee by employee, business leader by business leader. And with journalists helping spreading the word.

With American author Bill McKibben’s words: Scientists tell us that we have no hope of holding the rise in the planetary temperature below two degrees unless global emissions peak by 2015.

Understand that. Spend some time on learning what it means. And then let’s get started, we don’t have any more time to waste.

 

Mik Aidt
Father of three young children, and therefore, sustainability blogger




UPDATE:

Connie Hedegaard’s rescue plan was rejected by the EU Parliament

334 against, 315 for.

The idea with the European Union’s flagship carbon-trading scheme, the EU ETS, was to dissuade polluters and promote investments in cleaner production. It had already be falling to pieces, but when on 16 April 2013 the Members of Parliament by the narrow margin of 334 votes to 315 rejected the Commission’s plan to rescue it, they delivered a severe setback for the EU’s attempts to cut carbon emissions.

Greenpeace called the vote an “historic failure” to mend the carbon-trading market.
“The outcome of the vote is unfortunate. It sends the wrong message to companies, to the public and the international community,” Rob Elsworth, a campaigner at emissions trading NGO SandBag, told
The Guardian

But what really happened behind the scenes was that the classic tale of how politicians give in to their powerful industrial lobbies. In particular Poland had allegedly lobbied against the plan to protect its vast coal-mining sector.

“The winners were the coal-mining and heavy industries, backed by Eastern European governments, particularly Poland, which believed that paying for carbon credits would damage their competitiveness when the EU is already struggling for growth,” wrote Climate News Network.

To understand how a majority of EU politicians can think that putting a higher tax on carbon emissions is not important, you have to watch this. This is not a video from four or eight years ago, this is a video from 15 April 2013, the day before the vote. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what is going on in the fine chambers and halls of our decisionmaking politicians — and an important explanation how the political system has been paralyzed:

“We know, do we not, that the hypothesis that man-made global-warming was going to cause totally apocalyptical boiling in 2050 now is completely nonsens. The hypothesis is dead in the water.”

Godfrey Bloom, MEP, speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 15 April 2013





Related content

Renewable Energy World – 10 May 2013:
Europe Sinks Its Flagship Carbon Trading Scheme
The EP’s failure to revive its faltering mechanism could have wide-ranging implications for renewable energy expansion in Europe, especially for countries without a feed-in-tariff pricing system. “This was a hugely important vote for climate policies and for renewables themselves across Europe,” says Regine Günther of the World Wildlife Fund Germany, one of the country’s biggest environmental NGOs. By Paul Hockenos


The Guardian – 22 April 2013:
This faith in the markets is misplaced: only governments can save our living planet
The European emissions trading system died last week. Why? Because of the lobbying power of big business. By George Monbiot


The Age – 17 April 2013:
Carbon price collapse could hit Australian budget
European Union parliamentarians voted 334 to 315 to reject a short-term fix to the trading scheme’s woes caused by a surplus of emissions permits, putting into doubt the future of the scheme. The vote triggered a 40 per cent crash in the carbon price to around $A3.20 per tonne, before rebounding slightly to $A4 by the close of trading. By comparison, Australia’s carbon price is fixed at $23 a tonne, and will rise over the next two years. Article by Tom Arup


Greenpeace – 16 April 2013:
Four reasons why an obscure EU vote on the carbon markets really matters
The proposal was backed by the UK but a number of Conservative MEP’s reportedly rebelled — potentially swinging the vote. The proposal to ‘backload’ credits sounded arcane. It was arcane. But it was also extremely significant — here’s why. By Damian Kahya


“Time to scrap the EU Emissions Trading Scheme”

Here is an NGO report which “busts the myths” of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and explains why it should be replaced with direct action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their report is entitled ‘EU ETS myth busting: Why it can’t be reformed and shouldn’t be replicated’ and can be downloaded here (pdf file, 1.3 MB). It was published by several of the organisations that at the same time signed on to the “Time to scrap the ETS” declaration.

REDD-Monitor – 16 April 2013:
The EU Emissions Trading Scheme has failed: “Time to scrap the ETS”
“No amount of structural tinkering will get away from the fact that the EU has chosen the wrong tool to reduce emissions in Europe. It is inherently too weak to get the EU to where it needs to be in the necessary timescale,” says Hannah Mowat from FERN. By Chris Lang

‘Time to scrap the ETS’ Declaration. On 16 April 2013, more than 130 organisations had signed the declaration. If your organisation wants to sign on, send an email to scrap.the.ets@gmail.com.




“The science of climate change and human caused climate change in particular has become clear over the past several years and yet the crystal clear implications of this for policy are being ignored by government. The principal scientific fact is that we cannot burn all of the fossil fuels without creating unacceptable consequences for young people, future generations, and Mother Nature.”

James Hansen, American NASA scientist-turned-climate activist


icon_small-arrow_RIGHT Read more about the American ‘Climate Declaration’


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