While politicians dither on climate risk, companies act

Climate change has all but disappeared from the headlines, aside from serving as a popular punching bag for Republican presidential candidates.

But while politicians are busy denying the problem, businesses are taking action.  There’s ample evidence that corporations recognize the risk of climate change and are factoring it into their investment planning.  According to media reports today, Starbucks is already seeing a drop in coffee yields because of weather anomalies and is making contingency plans for a substantial reduction in worldwide coffee supplies in the next decade and beyond.

The science behind climate change is solid.  And, contrary to popular belief, the U.S. science community strongly supports it.  The National Academies – America’s nonpartisan, independent source of scientific expertise – has long warned of climate risks and has urged Congress to take action.  As recently as May 2011, it released a new report by a panel of top U.S. scientists on the urgency of action to combat climate change.  Although the report barely made a ripple in the media, it is the strongest statement yet by U.S. scientists on the reality of climate change:

“Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities, and poses significant risks for a range of human and natural systems. Emissions continue to increase, which will result in further change and greater risks. Responding to these risks is a crucial challenge facing the United States and the world today and for many decades to come.”

The panel also made a strong appeal for federal action to address the problem:

“The significant risks that climate change poses to human society and the environment provide a strong motivation to move ahead with substantial response efforts. Current efforts of local, state, and private sector actors are important, but not likely to yield progress comparable to what could be achieved with the addition of strong federal policies that establish coherent national goals and incentives, and that promote strong U.S. engagement in international-level response efforts.”

For more information on what business is doing in response to climate risk, see the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) and its upcoming symposium on Climate Change and Business Risk, which will be held in Washington DC on October 18. IETA strongly supports the use of market-based mechanisms, like cap-and-trade, to limit carbon and other emissions.  (Disclosure: I have done consulting assignments for IETA.)



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