Governments should set a clear target of making the world’s economy free from carbon emissions by mid-century, Sir Richard Branson and a group of other prominent business people have urged.
The goal – of eliminating the net impact of greenhouse gases, by replacing fossil fuels and ensuring that any remaining emissions are balanced out by carbon-saving projects such as tree-planting and carbon capture and storage – is more stretching than any yet agreed by world governments. The G8 group of rich nations has pledged to cut emissions by 80% by 2050, and some developing countries to halving emissions by then.
Branson, long a vocal advocate of action on climate change, said that setting such a goal would galvanise businesses into reducing their reliance on fossil fuels and cutting carbon dioxide. “Taking bold action on climate change simply makes good business sense,” he said. “It’s also the right thing to do for people and the planet. Setting a net-zero GHG emissions target by 2050 will drive innovation, grow jobs, build prosperity and secure a better world for what will soon be 9 billion people. Why would we wait any longer to do that?”
Governments will meet in Geneva next week under the auspices of the United Nations to hammer out the draft of a text that could form the basis of a new global agreement on climate change, scheduled to be signed at a crunch conference in Paris in December.
The US, China and the EU have already set out their targets on emissions beyond 2020, when current commitments made at the climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009 run out. Other nations are expected to follow suit by submitting their post-2020 national emissions targets to the UN from now to April, after which they will be evaluated to check that they are fair and add up to a global cut in emissions that will put the world on a path to avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
The call to governments to pledge a zero-net-emissions target for 2050 was made by the B Team group of international business leaders. It includes Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group manufacturing conglomerate; Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever; Mo Ibrahim, the telecommunications billionaire; Guilherme Leal, the Brazilian billionaire; Francois-Henri Pinault, chairman of the luxury goods group Kering; Arianna Huffington, the media entrepreneur; and a handful of others.
Paul Polman called on other business leaders to join in: “A target of net-zero emissions by 2050 is not only desirable but necessary. This is the time to redouble our efforts and further accelerate progress to decarbonise our economy. This is not going to be easy, but the earlier we act, the greater the economic opportunities will be.”
The group said the transition to a net-zero emissions economy could, if managed correctly, bring economic benefits to all countries, rich and poor, as well as cleaner air and a healthier environment.
Mary Robinson, the UN’s special envoy on climate change, said: “A transition to net-zero [emissions] will succeed only if it is done fairly. The necessary technology for sustainable development must be an available and affordable option for all countries. Without this, developing countries will have no alternative to dirty energy for their development, locking themselves into fossil fuel infrastructure for the long term, and we will fail to secure a safe climate future.”