An excerpt from Green to Gold (pages 33-34):
"No issue looms larger in terms of potential strategic impact on business than the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In the media, all this fits loosely under the heading “global warming,” but the problems go far beyond rising temperatures. What we’re facing is more accurately described as “climate change.” This catch-all includes rising sea levels, changes in rainfall patterns, more severe droughts and floods, harsher hurricanes and other windstorms, and new pathways for disease. (Malaria, for example, spreads to places with warmer climates.) Without being overly dramatic, it’s fair to say that climate change could threaten the habitability of the planet."
Like no other environmental issue, and perhaps like no other issue of any kind, climate change -- and the rising pressure on companies to do something about it -- will change the business landscape forever.
To say there's been heated debate around the science of climate change is an understatement. But, for the most part, the majority of the debate is over. The details of how climate change may affect certain areas and populations, and how fast, are yet to be worked out, but the basic consensus is clear: the earth is warming and humans have increased this effect. As Science Magazine put it, after reviewing a decade's worth of studies on climate change (see article), "Many details about climate interactions are not well understood, and there are ample grounds for continued research to provide a better basis for understanding climate dynamics. The question of what to do about climate change is also still open. But there is a scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic [human caused] climate change. Climate scientists have repeatedly tried to make this clear. It is time for the rest of us to listen."
In the category of certainty: carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases help warm the planet, humans have added greatly to the total, and the planet has warmed about 1 degree Fahrenheit over the last century. We know that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen from under 300 parts per million to 380 today (see the data on measurements taken over the last 50 years at Mauna Loa in Hawaii).
What's less certain is what happens next. The projections range from anywhere from 2 to 10 degrees more. For some more detailed science and projections on climate change, as well as extensive data on emissions and where they come from, we suggest a few destinations:
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This international organization of scientists has performed the most systematic, global analysis on the problem. See the Synthesis Report and specific reports on the Scientific Basis; Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability; and Mitigation
- U.S. EPA Global Warming site. See in particular the "Fast Facts" on The U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks (PDF: 247k)
- See the Global Warming Basics at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change (see below)
- United Nations Environment Program Climate Change site
- Environmental Defense paper on impacts from climate change (PDF: 1.6MB)
- US Global Change Research Program and U.S. Climate Change Science Program, both of which are hubs of information and research from a broad range of U.S. agencies, including NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy. See in particular the study, "OUR CHANGING PLANET, The U.S. Climate Change Science Program for Fiscal Year 2006"
- Climate Institute
Companies are moving fast to develop climate change plans, cut energy use, and work with NGOs and other companies on innovative partnerships. A number of "compacts" are now available for companies willing to commit to some level of greenhouse gas reduction. Here are a few of the leading partnerships:
- Pew Center on Global Climate Change
- EPA Climate Leaders
- The World Wildlife Fund's Climate Savers
- Environmental Defense's Partnership for Climate Action
- Climate Neutral Network
- Business Leaders Initiative on Climate Change (BLICC)
- The Earth Institute's Global Roundtable on Climate Change
And some regional examples...
In addition to voluntary agreements and compacts, companies face regulations and new greenhouse gas trading schemes. For more information on this important trend, and some companies and organizations in the thick of it, we suggest the following:
- See the UK's Department of Environment (Defra) on the greenhouse gas trading in the European Union or the official site for the EU Emissions Trading System
- World Bank Carbon Finance
- Chicago Climate Exchange
- Northeast regional greenhouse gas initiative
- Climate Change Capital
- Evolution Markets
- European Carbon Fund (ECF)
- Trading Emissions PLC
Finally, general resources on climate change and business are growing every day. For a general hub on climate change, try Climate Ark and for all things business and climate, try The Climate Group or Climatebiz.com. Both are solid starting points.