Demand climate regulation, Harvard economist urges big businesses

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 21 September 2020 19:35 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Solar electric panels are shown installed on the roof of the Hanover Olympic building, the first building to offer individual solar-powered net-zero apartments in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

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"Without appropriate government policy, we are not going to get to zero," she says at launch of Climate Week in New York

By Laurie Goering

LONDON, Sept 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Slashing planet-heating emissions will require not just voluntary efforts by corporations but government regulation and taxes, a Harvard Business School economist said Monday.

"Without appropriate government policy, we are not going to get to zero," Rebecca Henderson told the opening of a series of "Climate Week" events hosted in New York City alongside the U.N. General Assembly.

She called on big businesses, hundreds of which are setting their own "net-zero" emissions targets, to lobby governments for taxes on fossil fuels, energy-efficiency regulation and other measures to spur rapid reductions in climate-changing emissions.

She said technological changes that could help curb climate change were in the pipeline but sufficient public "emotion" around the threats and government action were missing.

"We have the beginnings of a worldwide climate movement... but we need to scale that up really quickly," she said.

New York's Climate Week events coincide with a restart of "mass" protests by the Fridays for Future youth climate movement founded by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

The group plans on Friday to carry out protests around the world both on the streets and digitally, "whichever way is safe" as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Thunberg said.

Helen Clarkson, CEO of The Climate Group, a non-profit organisation that works with business and government leaders on climate action, said she believed it was crucial to push ahead on climate solutions even while tackling a health crisis.

"Climate change is not going to wait while we deal with COVID," she noted, pointing to worsening wildfires, floods and other climate-linked disasters.

And with governments now spending heavily in a bid to revive virus-stalled economies, "we have a huge opportunity to redefine what the world ahead of us looks like", she added.

Companies that have shifted their entire staff to a lower-carbon model of home-working in a matter of weeks, for instance, have shown the kind of rapid change that is possible, she said.

"We've seen what you can do when the lives of your people are at stake," she said. But with climate change impacts ramping up, similar urgency is needed "for every single decision that affects the climate", she said.

Doug McMillon, president of U.S. retail giant Walmart, said his company had come to realise that "social equity and national prosperity depend on the world's natural systems" and so was stepping up action on climate change and biodiversity losses.

The company announced Monday a new aim to reach zero emissions across its global operations by 2040, and, through its charitable foundation, to protect, manage and restore 50 million acres of land and a million square miles of ocean by 2030.

Post-pandemic, "the world is not going to return to normal – and that's not a bad thing" if it spurs a rethink, he said.

Britain's Prince Charles told the opening event that climate change should be addressed "on a war-like footing" with "a Marshall plan for nature, people and planet".

"We can no longer go on as if there is... no ultimate reckoning for our abuse of nature," he said.

Read more:

Climate strikers plan 'safe' return to protests, Greta Thunberg says

Corporate giants court climate start-ups in race to net-zero future

(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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