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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 September 2007, 23:12 GMT 00:12 UK
Investors urge action on climate change
By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News

US President Bill Clinton
President Clinton wants companies to act against climate change
Bill Clinton will be taking a leaf out of his political ally Al Gore's book on Monday as he takes part in the New York launch of a major study of large, global corporations' attitudes to climate change.

In the current climate, much of what the Global Corporate Climate Change Report says appears obvious: most companies have come to realise that climate change is going to have a major impact on their business, and many of them also realise that there will be winners as well as losers.

But what is truly different about this report is that it is backed by a group of 315 of the world's largest investment houses with $41 trillion under management - equivalent to three times the annual economic output of the US.

"That's why President Clinton is prepared to endorse this initiative," the Climate Disclosure Project's chief executive, Paul Dickinson, tells BBC News in an interview.

Market leaders

In a world where money is power, the group of investors have asked the biggest companies in the world to identify how climate change is going to affect their businesses, and to report back their findings.

Many of them have done so. Indeed, the Global Corporate Climate Change Report is essentially a compilation of a whopping 1,300 reports from major international corporations revealing both what impact they are having on the environment, and what impact changes to the environment are having on their commercial operations.

Many of them are investing heavily to try to reduce their carbon footprint, in order to cut back on costs that are forced higher by climate change.

"We are going to be talking about climate change for the rest of our working lives and beyond," insists Mr Dickinson, pointing out that the chief executive of the giant French insurance company Axa sees climate change risk as greater than both exchange rate risk and interest rate risk.

Others are taking advantage of the opportunities posed by climate change - making profits from solving the problem, Mr Dickinson continues.

To illustrate his point he highlights the example of how car makers that have pioneered emission reducing engine technologies, like Toyota and Honda's petrol electric hybrid engines, are gaining market share.

Little action

But not all companies see climate change as a factor affecting their business, the Global Corporate Climate Change Report points out.

Climate change protestor
Investors fear the chaos of climate change

This finding is supported by a YouGov study for KPMG in the UK, which found that a fifth of respondents deemed climate change "not a very important issue" for their business.

But awareness is growing fast, according to Lehman Brothers economist John Llewellyn, who last week published a report of his own; The Business of Climate Change II.

True, many companies are concerned about spending lots of money to reduce emissions before their rivals do so, because such rising costs reduce their ability to compete, explains Mr Llewellyn, but this does not mean they are avoiding the issue altogether.

These companies will invest in emission-reducing technologies, but only once there is a regulatory and legislative framework in place that ensures a level playing field.

Hence, the suggestion in the YouGov/KPMG study that 86% of business leaders interviewed do "not have a strategy in place for responding to climate change" does not mean they will not have one in the future.

"You don't want to be the first mover," Mr Llewellyn tells BBC News.

"The policy response as much as climate change itself will affect companies' responses."

Green investments

"So far - or at least until recently - polluters, particularly emitters of greenhouse gases, have not had to pay for the damage they have caused," Mr Llewellyn points out in his report.

"Hence, they have had no economic incentive to limit them."

Share prices will increasingly be affected by environmental performance
John Llewellyn, Lehman Brothers

But over time "businesses will be obliged to internalise the climate change externality", he says. In other words, polluters will have to start paying for damage they cause.

Mr Llewellyn also predicts that policy initiatives aimed at curbing climate change will increasingly be hammered out by treasuries and finance ministries, rather than by environment, technology, industry or energy ministries as is often the case today.

In short, governments will meet the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with a search for the cheapest way to do so.

Technologies that deliver significant emission reductions in return for every pound or dollar spent will be favoured over expensive technologies that deliver relatively small emission reductions per pound, he predicts.

For instance, $10 spent on energy efficient light bulbs would reduce carbon emissions by one tonne. To achieve the same reduction in emissions by insulating houses would require an investment of $130, while some $500 would need to be spent on solar panels to achieve the same result.

By extension; spending that $500 on energy efficient light bulbs would reduce emissions by 50 tonnes - so it makes sense to change the light bulbs before investing in house insulation. And only when that has been done should solar panels be acquired, and this is as true for society as a whole as it is for individual households.

Treasuries and finance ministries are also expected to try to calculate the cost of climate change, by trying to estimate the cost of the damage it is causing. Finance ministers and chancellors will then be pushing through green initiatives, though only so long as the damage costs more than the repairs.

Cautious investors

But whereas companies - and indeed governments - are increasingly investing to reduce their carbon footprint, there is little evidence that their efforts attract targeted investment, according to a study by communications consultants Headland.

The study, which was based on interviews with 19 leading fund management houses in the UK, found that "there remains a clear disconnect between the apparent seriousness of this issue and attitudes of institutional fund managers".

"Respondents revealed very little evidence of investment firms incorporating climate change in top-down investment strategies", the study found.

Again, predicts Mr Llewellyn, this will change over time.

"Share prices will increasingly be affected by environmental performance," he says in his report.

"While share prices will continue to be driven by the usual macroeconomic, sectoral and company-specific determinants, they will also increasingly be affected by companies' environmental performances, including their emissions of greenhouse gases."


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