Communication for Sustainable Development

Competition to be greenest will spur action on climate

University of Gothenburg, Sweden, main buildingImage via Wikipedia
BJORN Stigson tells his business students at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden: ''I have been in business for about 40 years in different ways, but I'm not going to talk to you about my experiences. What I am going to talk to you about is your life - your 40 years.

''The starting point for your life, coming out of university, is not the best.

''The legacy you are getting from me and my generation is not the best.

''Then I talk about the challenges, the big trends, transformations, innovations that are needed.

''My view is you have not, as students, been taught very much about this at university. Nor have you been given many tools to deal with it. So, welcome to your life.''

Professor Stigson (above), president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development since 1995, has three kids and eight grandkids.

Over coffee this week he confesses today's young people are going to have a ''tough time'' dealing with the transformation necessary to allow 9 billion people to live well, within the limits of this one planet's resources.

Based in Switzerland, the Council is a CEO-led association of about 200 global companies, including BHP, Commonwealth Bank, IAG and engineering firm GHD from Australia. Last year 29 of the Council's members - no Australian companies were involved, but London-based Rio Tinto was - launched a report called Vision 2050: The new agenda for business.

The Vision includes laudable targets, including a peak in global greenhouse gas emissions by around 2020. It outlines a pathway to lift billions out of poverty (including energy access for all), while reducing resource use fourfold to tenfold, while avoiding dangerous climate change.

It's an unprecedented transformation - much faster than the industrial revolution - and the biggest business opportunity ever seen, according to Stigson, here for this weekend's Australian Davos Connection shindig on Hayman Island.

His message is all about the 'green race'. Who will dominate the future world economy? The prize is increased share of a market, which PwC estimates at $US0.5 trillion to 1.5 trillion annually by 2020, rising to $US3 trillion to 10 trillion annually by 2050.

China is winning, says Stigson.

He describes China's 12th five-year plan, for 2011-15, as a ''game plan for the green race''.

China is investing more in clean energy than any other country - twice as much as the US - with 21 per cent of global spending in 2009, especially in wind and solar. Korea devoted 80 per cent of its GFC stimulus to green programs. Japan is the most energy-efficient economy in the world.

As Asia rises, Stigson predicts Europe, current world leader in green technology exports, will see its 40 per cent market share decline. The US, he says, is ''blocked - they cannot get the policies in place''.

The council understands business as usual is not an option and accepts the climate science and targets agreed by the UN at Copenhagen and Cancun: avoid global warming of more than 2 degrees, which means stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations at 450 parts per million or lower. But Stigson sees little chance of progress at the next meeting in Durban, South Africa.

No matter, the race is on. ''The pledges that came after Copenhagen were not based on an enormous amount of analysis for most countries,'' says Stigson. ''The potential for doing much more, with a more aggressive action plan, is substantial. I believe we're going to see much more dynamism than these pledges have assumed.

''Not because people feel a moral responsibility to change the environment, but because they see this as a green race. This is about competition.''

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