Over 450 investors controlling $13tn of assets yesterday urged world governments to pre-empt an international climate change treaty and take immediate action on global warming, or risk losing the opportunity to establish a clean and sustainable low-carbon economy.
At a conference at the United Nations in New York, the first gathering of business leaders since the disappointment of last month's Copenhagen climate summit said governments — even in the absence of a treaty — must adopt policies that give a clear sense of direction towards a new clean energy economy. Copenhagen made only "incremental" progress, the investors said in a statement and governments worldwide needed to act now to reset their domestic agendas, with policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to lay the foundations of a carbon market.
"Given that Copenhagen was a missed opportunity to create one fully functional international carbon market, it is more important than ever that individual governments implement regional and domestic policy change to stimulate the creation of a low carbon economy," said Peter Dunsombe, chairman of the IIGCC, a network of European investors. "Leaders from both developed and developing countries need to act now to compensate for the lack of progress."
The Obama administration, like other governments of industrialised countries, has acknowledged the private sector will provide the majority of funding for the transition from fossil fuels to renewable, low-carbon energy sources.
"Investors remain committed to taking action," the group of 450 investors from Europe, America and Australia said. "But for us to deploy capital at the scale needed to truly catalyse a low-carbon economy, policy makers must act swiftly." Before the Copenhagen conference, the economist Lord Stern, and the head of the UN Environment Programme Achim Steiner, told the Guardian that a failure would be "very damaging" to investor confidence.
The cautious assessment on the outcome of the Copenhagen climate change summit was echoed by the Obama administration's top climate change envoy, Todd Stern. He told the conference, which was organised by the Ceres green investment network, thathis year would be crucial in determining whether the world was truly on course towards reaching a fully fledged treaty to deal with climate change.
He said America and other countries would be working hard to flesh out a 12-paragraph accord brokered by Obama and the leaders of China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, especially on sharing of clean energy technology, and the mobilising of a global fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change. "We have an accord that is lumbering down the runway, and we need to get it enough speed so that it can take off," Stern said.
The investors said it was critical that governments – including the US – adopt rigorous targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade as well as for the distant date of 2050. In addition to renewable energy, they also called for policies to speed the development of green building practices, cleaner cars and public transit systems.
"What we need most is government action both in the US and throughout the world," said Anne Stausboll, the chief executive of the California Public Employees Retirement System (Calpers) America's largest public pension fund. Calpers has $1bn of its $205bn assets in green investment, and was ready to do more, but Stausboll — like others — said that Congress first needed to put in place a climate change law.