Climate for business from threat to opportunity

It may seem hard to believe today, but there was once a time that business denied there was such a thing as climate change. Vast amounts of money and effort went into discrediting the scientific basis on which the case for action was made. Business lobby organisations were set up and funded by those companies that felt threatened by action on climate change. Aggressive lobbying which aimed to derail national and international responses to the issue was commonplace on Capitol Hill in Washington or at UN climate negotiations.

From the mid 1990s onwards, however, a fascinating transformation took place. Though a handful of companies continue vociferously to resist tougher forms of action, many started to sense that regulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) was on its way, and that they were better off preparing themselves to compete and survive in this new business environment. Some then learned what a smaller number of companies had already worked out - that beyond just being a question of risk management, there were in fact many good business opportunities in a carbon-constrained economy. There was a strong 'business case' for action on climate change. The US Climate Action Partnership, for example, an organisation that is 'committed to a pathway that will slow, stop and reverse the growth of US emissions while expanding the US economy'1 includes among its members companies like Alcoa, British Petroleum, Ford, General Electric and Shell, all of which were previously among the ranks of the industry lobbies resisting calls for action. Even Exxon Mobil, the last of the big US oil companies to concede ground, now officially accepts the existence of climate change

1 See http://www.us-cap.org/.

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and the need to reduce emissions, although it still also funds organisations like the Heritage Foundation which deny the existence of climate change.2 Many now accept the need for action, are taking action themselves and increasingly see in climate change the opportunity to make lots of money.

This shift in attitude among key corporate actors is crucial to the possibility of a transformation towards climate capitalism. Without the support of business, widespread transformations of the economy are impossible to imagine. But how do we explain such a seemingly dramatic transition? How much of it is little more than good public relations? Or is business indeed at the forefront of bringing about a shift to climate capitalism? What does the character of the transformation tell us about the likely shape of climate capitalism that might emerge?

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