Yesterday at the 7 o’clock news there was an item about 75 CEOs of companies and NGOs who signed an open letter (Dutch) to our federal government. Some of them are Bond Beter Leefmilieu, Delhaize, Electrabel, Natuurpunt, Nestlé Belgium, Siemens, Solvay, UCB, Umicore and WWF. Truly a mishmash of NGOs and big companies. They apparently want to play a more active role to reduce emissions and even to take the lead in doing that.
I have no problem with that, if they really want to, they can just do that. Why even have a fancy reception and writing an open letter to the federal minister? In the news report there were high words like far reaching commitment, becoming leaders in transition, opportunities abroad, the first / the best / the quickest in the battle against greenhouse gases, the urgency to act, jobs, innovation, yada, yada.
What jumped out to me was that loads of hype words were used in the news report: climate policy and climate deal (hey, as if politicians have the power to control the climate), carbon reduced (I think they mean carbon dioxide, not carbon), climate resistant economy (what the hell is that). Impressive words, but quite meaningless.
My immediate reaction while watching the story: where is the catch!?!? As far as I know, none of those companies or NGOs are charities.
So I went looking for that open letter. In the many reports in the media there was strangely no link to that open letter. Searching for it had no results initially, but in the end I found the open letter “Message from Belgian stakeholders in support of the COP 21”. It was hard to find because it was written somewhat different from how it was reported in the media. In the beginning I even thought that I had the wrong document. Reading it I understood why no links were given. The open letter has high PR value, but is pretty low on substance.
The letter was rather short (about 50 lines) and it wasn’t written in the form of a letter, more like some pamphlet from WWF or the like.
What was also reported different in the media was the commitment of those big companies. In the media it was reported as “the commitment that both parties take in the open letter go far”. But when I read the open letter, then they commit to this:
- We are taking voluntary actions to reduce environmental and carbon footprints, setting targets to reduce our current own GHG gas emissions and/or energy consumption while also collaborating in supply chains and at sectorial levels.
- We agree on the need for inspirational and meaningful global action and aligned messaging. We will act as ambassadors for climate action, focusing on solutions and economic opportunities. We will help raising public awareness.
- We will actively manage climate risks and incorporate them in decision making – not least to realize growth opportunities. We will take steps to implement effective strategies to strengthen not only our companies’ but also societal resilience.
While that seems all impressive and noble at first glance, it is all really vague. There is no guarantee that those actions will be actually meaningful, even limiting it to Belgian scale. Let alone worldwide.
By promoting their demands, they however made following claim:
Hastening the shift to a low-carbon economy in an economically sustainable manner will generate growth and jobs in both the developing and the developed world. It lowers our dependence on fossil fuels hence reduces our dependence on energy import. Delaying action is not an option: it will be costly and will damage socio-economic progress.
I think they didn’t think that through, even have it backwards. The transition of a high density energy source to a low density intermittent energy source will be huuuuuugely expensive. In the last years we added a few percent alternative energy sources to our electricity grid, at a huge cost. We are now behind the schedule towards 2020, so we will even have to catch up to get to that 70% goal by 2050. I hope the minister and her staff knows more about the influence of intermittent sources on an economy than those gullible CEOs.
What they ask from whom is not really clear from the open letter. There was not even a mention of the “minister” or the “federal government”. What was mentioned was what they expect to be the impact from the COP 21 meeting in Paris on Europe or the world. Only mention of something vaguely “federal” was that “Belgium should contribute each year to the Green Climate Fund in line with the Copenhagen agreement”. They apparently didn’t dare to mention the (negligible) impact of the Belgian efforts on something that is considered global, especially compared to the (huge) price the Belgian people will have to pay for it.
In the media a different sound: the government should make an ambitious climate plan to reduce emissions by 70% from 2010 by 2050. That is no small feat compare to “we will take voluntary actions” and “we will help raising public awareness” or “we incorporate climate risks in our decision making” (if it is profitable).
And that is exactly where the catch is. These are companies, not charities. They are not just going to pay a lot of money to “save the world” and expect nothing in return. They have seen there is money to be made when it comes to “climate change”. They would be stupid not to take the opportunity with both hands and gain profit as well as status in the process.
The reason for this open letter to the government was also visible in the news report in which one of those CEOs said that (my emphasis)::
You certainly need stability and supporting measures from the government”.
I rest my case.