NEW YORK, Sept 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - There's money to be made by going green.
So say business leaders and politicians who pressed the economic case for urgent action to fight climate change at events across New York City ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit, which opens on Tuesday.
"Climate change is the biggest problem in this world but also one of the most exciting opportunities," Virgin chairman Richard Branson said at the Morgan Library during a panel discussion addressing the role of business in society. "If business leaders realise how exciting it is, they'll see there's actually an opportunity here."
Switching the business focus from old, dirty resources to renewable, eco-friendly solutions is a matter of profit, Unilever CEO Paul Polman said at the forum.
Ignoring the problem and doing nothing is "exceeding the cost of taking action," Polman added, noting that inaction on climate change would wipe out profits to be made in the food sector in the next 50 years.
Pointing to the hundreds of thousands of people who marched in New York and cities around the world to demand urgent action on climate change, U.N. Special Envoy for Climate Change Mary Robinson said that the business community now has to maintain that popular momentum.
"Sustainability has to stop being viewed as a corporate responsibility issue" and become a core part of business operations, she said.
Their comments came as We Mean Business - a coalition of organisations working with thousands of businesses and investors around the world - released a report detailing the financial returns of switching to cleaner technologies.
Measures that deliver attractive returns include investing in more energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, installing LED lighting, and capturing waste heat to use in industrial processes, the report said.
To reduce carbon emissions significantly, companies can replace old oil-fired boilers with biogas units, insulate their buildings, and switch their car fleets to electric vehicles, for example.
CUTTING EMISSIONS, CREATING JOBS
At a separate event, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt talked about her country's ambitious target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 - a goal that has not negatively impacted the country's economy.
"There is no reason to think that climate change isn't good economics," Thorning-Schmidt said at the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting. "We continue to grow and create jobs."
Supported by the Clinton Foundation, CGI was established by former U.S. President Bill Clinton in 2005 to convene global leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to the world's most pressing challenges.
Thorning-Schmidt said that going green is a responsibility that both business and politics share, and a solid, long-term political framework is necessary to support eco-friendly business actions.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Alisa Tang)