Global Warming Profiteers: Former Skeptics See a Chance to Bolster Profits
Big Corporations Alter View of Global Warming
William Drozdiak Washington Post Service
Friday, November 24, 2000
Former Skeptics See a Chance to Bolster Profits
THE HAGUE In a momentous policy shift, many American
corporations say they are now persuaded by the perils of greenhouse
gases and have emerged as strong advocates of market based
solutions to cleanse the atmosphere of pollutants that trap heat and
raise the earth's temperature.
Long regarded as skeptics in the global warming debate, many
American business executives have undergone a conversion since
more than 150 governments reached an agreement in Kyoto, Japan,
three years ago to reduce greenhouse gas emissions below 1990
levels. Those countries are engaged in talks here, due to end Friday,
on how they should fulfill their treaty obligations.
Conscious of their image, some companies that were once branded
as polluters have turned into staunch green-power advocates. These
include such household names as Du Pont, Ford, Sunoco and
Texaco. Instead of trying to block implementation of the Kyoto treaty,
many companies have showed up here to lobby for a visionary new
regime that would enlist them as mercenaries in the global crusade
to curtail emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other
Scientists say that unless current trends are reversed, the earth's
average temperature will rise between 6 and 12 degrees Fahrenheit
(3.4 and 6.7 degrees centigrade) in this century, provoking extreme
storms, melting polar ice caps and elevating sea levels enough to
inundate islands and coastal areas in many parts of the world.
"American companies are coming around to embrace scientific
findings and now want to be part of the solution instead of the
problem," said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on
Global Climate Change, which has enrolled 28 corporations in its
lobbying effort within the past two years. "We need to have the
private sector involved and to give these companies a good seat at
the table because only they can develop innovative technologies we
need to solve the problem."
To some extent, businesses were motivated by the realization that
governments seemed so determined to regulate emissions of carbon
dioxide and other pollutants that they figured they may as well climb
aboard the bandwagon and start reducing emissions before being
compelled by law to do so. But now, some companies are finding
they can reap handsome profits, as well as corporate goodwill, by
BP Amoco, the British-American petroleum company, now ranks as
the largest single producer of solar power equipment in the world.
Along with a few other multinational corporations, it has vowed to cut
its share of greenhouse gases much further than goals being
discussed at The Hague. The company logo now features a green
circle emblazoned by the sun, with the letters "BP" denoting
Du Pont, the Delaware-based chemical company, has also
undergone a remarkable metamorphosis. A decade ago, Du Pont
was castigated as the largest producer of chlorofluorocarbons, which
was considered the prime culprit in the depletion of the ozone layer,
often cited as a major cause in the rise of skin cancer. At the same
time, Du Pont was placed at the top of the U.S. government's
watchlist for toxic chemicals.
But now, Du Pont is considered one of the premier success stories
in the fight against greenhouse gases. It has managed to cut its
release of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 50 percent since
1990 after launching one of the most far reaching corporate programs
to fight global warming.
"The remarkable thing is that we found we could cut back on
releasing tens of millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere
without too much additional cost," said Thomas Jacob, Du Pont's
manager for international and industry affairs. "In the past, companies
were often scared of taking environmental initiatives, but we have
found it pays to be ahead of the game because it places you in a
better competitive situation if and when the Kyoto treaty is put into
U.S. companies have started to notice that the global warming
debate affects almost every business sector. With the ferocity of
storms likely to increase, insurance companies realize their risk
calculations - and thus their profits - lie at the cutting edge of climate
change. Since transportation accounts for one third of all greenhouse
gas emissions, automobile and airplane manufacturers, such as Ford
and Boeing, have launched major environmental programs.
Much of the discussions here on how to achieve the Kyoto goals has
pitted the United States against the European Union. The United
States wants to encourage corporate involvement by using
mechanisms such as the buying and selling of rights to exceed
pollution quotas, assigning credits for "carbon sinks" such as
farmland and forests that absorb carbon dioxide, and offering
incentives for companies to transfer clean-air technologies to
The EU, however, insists that the United States must not be allowed
to escape through loopholes and wants a substantial reduction in its
domestic output of greenhouse gases, which account for 24 percent
of the world's total. But European companies are breaking ranks and
pushing for a more flexible interpretation because they sympathize
with the U.S. view that corporations should be encouraged to make a
profit in the campaign against global warming.
Aidan Murphy, vice president at Shell International, says the Kyoto
treaty has prompted the British-Dutch oil company to shift some of
its focus away from petroleum toward alternative fuel sources. While
the move has helped the company make early strides toward its goal
of surpassing treaty requirements and reducing emissions to 10
percent less than 1990 levels, he says Shell is being driven largely
by the lure of profits.
"We are now involved in major energy projects involving wind and
biomass, but I can assure you this has nothing to do with altruism,"
Mr. Murphy said. "We see this as a whole new field in which to
develop a thriving business for many years to come. Capital is not
the problem, it's the lack of ideas and imagination."
Frank Loy, the U.S. undersecretary of state for global affairs who is
serving as head of the American delegation, says backing from the
private sector may be the crucial factor in determining whether The
Hague negotiations succeed. "The change in attitude of the business
community is really striking," Mr. Loy said. "These companies now
realize that dealing with climate change is in their own interests, and
they can turn it to their own advantage to improve the bottom line."
Mr. Loy and others say the dramatic turnabout in the corporate
perspective is perhaps the biggest difference between the Kyoto and
Hague negotiations. In Kyoto, many companies were aligned with the
Global Climate Coalition, a U.S. industrial lobby that spent $13
million on an advertising campaign claiming the threat of global
warming was wildly exaggerated and the price of gasoline would
skyrocket if mandatory cutbacks in greenhouse gas emissions were
Since then, the coalition has been weakened by defections from
prominent companies, Ford, BP Amoco, DaimlerChrysler, General
Motors and Texaco.
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