Wednesday, 20 February 2019

More than half of European Corporations have No CO2 Reduction Plans

A report based on a survey of European corporations (including UK ones) by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), reveals that 53% do not have targets for reducing their CO2 emissions, even though 80% say that they are aware of the risk to their businesses from climate change that this poses. 

More than a quarter of the surveyed companies were UK based. Of those who do, only one in three have targets that extend beyond 2025. Short termism runs through all corporate strategies. This despite reported board-level oversight from 95% of companies, from those returning surveys. 

Even so, 58% of these companies reported a reduction in emissions in 2018, which was in the main achieved through conservation measures, like installing LED lighting, which uses less electricity and so saves money. 

But a third also reported that they had increased emissions from 2017 to 2018. CDP received 849 responses from European companies in 23 countries. These companies account for 2.3 billion tons of CO2 emissions. The businesses include 82 large private companies, with combined revenues in excess of €614 billion.

Increased operating costs associated with policy and legal changes was the most commonly reported risk, with almost half (46%) of companies highlighting this. 86% of surveyed companies were also positive about the potential business opportunities from providing the solutions to climate change. 

Almost half (46%) of respondents report opportunities to drive revenue through demand for lower emissions products and services, with a quarter (26%) seeing these opportunities either currently or in the short term future.

The survey also asked about other environmental issues such as deforestation and water security risks, which produced similar findings to that for climate change from respondents.

All a bit of a mixed bag of results, but there is no sense of urgency from businesses, considering the increasingly shortening of time left to avoid catastrophic climate damage which scientists are finding. 

It should come as no surprise that businesses are only acting in a positive manner when reducing their bottom line or seeing expanding into new markets to generate more profit, other than being required to comply with legal and regularly requirements as set by governments.

This is the logic of the capitalist system, and why governments’ have so much difficulty in getting corporations to reduce their emissions. If regulation is strong enough to get serious reductions, business will lobby, and they are a powerful lobby, to water down commitments. Unless there is money to be saved or made by the corporations, and so increasing profits for shareholders, they have no incentive to act in the interests of the environment.

This will not change, despite many corporations having public relations induced ‘corporate responsibility’ schemes, which again have the primary purpose of making more money. 

Corporations know that at least some of the public are concerned by climate issues, and may choose corporations over others, on the basis of this greenwash, so promote this to increase market share. A good example of this in BP (British Petroleum), some years back changing their corporate logo to a flower, pictured above. BP is one of the worst offenders when it comes to climate change.

Even in corporations with well-meaning CEOs and boards, it would not be rational for them to put environmental matters above business as usual, and they would likely lose their jobs if they did. It is not the purpose of corporations to do anything that does not prioritise increasing profits, and this is how they are judged by their shareholders.

All of which rather calls into question the role that CDP is actually playing here. Their website explains that their strategy is:

‘We want to see a thriving economy that works for people and planet in the long term. To do this we focus investors, companies and cities on taking urgent action to build a truly sustainable economy by measuring and understanding their environmental impact.’

But this is futile as a means of achieving positive changes in behaviour from businesses beyond saving money and perhaps seeing opportunities to make money in new markets, as we have noted. Under the capitalist system, an ‘economy that works for people and planet’ is completely incompatible with corporate behaviour on a fundamental level. Only a change in the economic system will lead to a different approach.

The main use for us of CDP’s work is to show us the scale of the problem, not to provide a remedy to the climate crisis, that these same companies have been instrumental in causing.   

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