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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 May 2007, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Prince's 'mayday' climate alert
Prince Charles (Image: PA)
The crisis of climate change is far too urgent and discussion simply isn't enough
Prince Charles
Prince Charles has issued a "mayday" alert to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

"This is an emergency we face", he told a climate summit of more than 1,000 business leaders, and added that the time for discussions was over.

Delegates attending the event, hosted by the prince, pledged to take action on their companies' carbon emissions.

Organisers hope the commitments will kickstart a concerted effort among the UK business community that will deliver a low-carbon economy.

"The crisis of climate change is far too urgent and discussion simply isn't enough," the Prince of Wales told the May Day Business Summit on Climate Change at St James's Palace.

Office block at night (Image: BBC)
Business leaders will look at ways to cut their energy consumption

"When I was serving in the Royal Navy... 'mayday, mayday, mayday' was the distress call used in cases of emergencies," he recalled. "And this is an emergency that we face.

"The reason we are all here is because if the scientific consensus is right, we need to act very rapidly indeed."

He urged the business leaders to make firm commitments to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions over the next 12 months.

More than 1,000 companies agreed to pledge to work with employees, suppliers and customers to reduce their carbon footprints.

Among the most popular promises was identifying a board-level representative to champion carbon reductions, and working alongside suppliers to cut emissions.

Down to business

Companies that have signed up to cutting their CO2 emissions will receive support from Business in the Community and the Carbon Trust.

Consumers have become increasingly concerned about climate change and is looking to business to play its part
Tom Delay,
Carbon Trust

Tom Delay, chief executive of the Carbon Trust, said that both economic and ethical factors were behind the current interest in the issue.

"We have this lucky juxtaposition at the moment," he told BBC News.

"Even if there was no consumer interest, certain things would still be done such as reducing energy consumption because there is value for money in doing so.

"But consumers have become increasingly concerned about climate change and is looking to business to play its part."

Stuart Rose, chief executive of Marks and Spencer, said that it was customers' interest in products' environmental impact had helped shape the store's five-year plan to become carbon neutral.

"I was quite astounded by the reaction," he told the summit. "They said 'please tell us more and please do more'."

However, another chief executive highlighted how addressing one environmental concern could lead to the creation of another.

A dripping tap (Getty Images)
Improving water quality has led to an increase in carbon emissions

"Our carbon [emissions have] actually doubled since 1990," explained Philip Green from United Utilities, the UK's largest water company.

"It is not a record we are particularly proud of, but I suspect when people put in the additional quality rules on our industry 15 to 20 years ago, they did not consider the environmental cost of those renewed standards.

"Drinking water, rivers and beaches have all improved dramatically in terms of quality, the environmental cost has increased dramatically through the use of power and therefore carbon."

Mr Green added that the company had enlisted the help of the Carbon Trust to reduce its emissions.

According to recent estimates, the business sector is responsible for 40% of the nation's CO2 output.

Last autumn, Sir Nicholas Stern published his government-commissioned review into the economics of climate change.

He warned that failing to curb human-induced climate change would cost at least 5% of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year.

In contrast, he concluded, the costs of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change could be limited to about 1% of annual global GDP.

In March, the government published its draft Climate Change Bill which proposed a legally binding target of cutting the UK's CO2 emissions by 60% from 1990 levels by 2050.

Prince Charles' May Day warning to big business

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