Environmental groups like Environmental Defense, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, and the World Resources institute support mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions — no news there. It became news on Friday, though, when these organizations were joined 10 corporations from across the spectrum in announcing the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. The group made it very clear in its statement that they’re no longer interested in voluntary programs supported by the current administration: “…the 10 U.S.-based companies and four environmental groups called for mandatory reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, including those from power plants, transportation and buildings.”
The partnership said the cornerstone of its approach to fighting global warming would be “a cap-and-trade program,” echoing what Democrats and many environmentalists have proposed: a system that allows companies to buy and sell carbon credits. In such a system, emissions would be capped. Companies that reduce emissions and don’t hit their limits could sell what is left over to companies that exceed their limits.
“There must be a reasoned and serious debate about the solutions,” the group stated. “But debate cannot substitute for action. We hope that the consensus we have reached through our unique partnership provides further impetus toward the creation of sensible and effective policies to address global climate change.”
Needless to say, this is huge: policies considered “business-friendly” before now seem unacceptable to the business community… or, at least, some major players in it. Of course, there are all sorts of economic incentives for these corporations to call for such measures, including the economic havoc that climate change could wreak: rising sea levels and stronger weather events aren’t good for business. The timing on this is interesting, also — the Partnership will offer more details tomorrow, one day before Dubya’s State of the Union address, in which he’s expected to address climate change (but not very forcefully).
I’ve taken heat before for suggesting that these efforts are what they claim to be, and may again. Have these companies made environmentalism a part of their missions? Probably not. The have, however, recognized that serious environmental crises present genuine economic threats, and addressing these crises create genuine economic opportunities. That realization will move them to action… and action is what we desperately need in the face of these challenges.