US businesses call for climate law

Thirty-three major US companies have signed an appeal to congress to act on climate change, calling the green economy a major opportunity

US business leaders have given President Obama’s efforts to revive US climate policy an important boost: 33 major companies with combined annual revenues of around US$450 billion, have signed a Climate Declaration urging congress to take action on climate change. The declaration is open for signature by other companies and individuals.

Among the founding signatories are some of the United States’ most famous brands, including IKEA, Jones Lang LaSalle, L’Oreal, Timberland, eBay and Unilever.

Timed to coincide with the publication of President Obama’s budget for the coming year, the declaration describes a “bold” response to climate change as one of the greatest American opportunities of the twenty-first century, in an apparent attempt to put climate change back in the centre of the political debate.

The climate discussion in the US has languished since the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit (COP 15) in 2010 and a sustained and hostile campaign to discredit climate science has generated some public confusion. The declaration explicitly criticises those who seek to undermine the green economy, saying, "we cannot risk our kids’ futures on the false hope that the vast majority of scientists are wrong".

Despite President Obama’s pre-election declarations in favour of climate action, his administration has failed to enact domestic climate legislation, a failure largely attributable to the hostility of powerful Republican Party members in Congress. His administration did pass automotive fuel economy standards in 2012 and extended Production Tax Credit for wind power, but a comprehensive climate bill has proved elusive.

Public concern about climate change, however, has been growing, despite the political paralysis in Washington, boosted by a series of extreme weather events. The US suffered a severe drought last year, while Hurricane Sandy flooded New York and caused an estimated US$60 billion in material losses. Recent polls indicate that a majority of Americans now believe climate change is happening and that big business and government should both be doing more to address it.
Many states and cities in the United States have enacted their own emissions reductions and adaptation plans and US emissions have declined in recent years, largely because of the economic recession. The business leaders who signed the declaration already have strategies to promote clean energy and boost efficiency, as have the majority of the Fortune 500 companies. They insist, however, that their efforts will be limited without clear political action.  
President Obama two weeks ago called on business and civil society groups to make it clear that "this notion that there’s a contradiction between our economy and our environment is a false choice". His Budget Plan includes a series of measures designed to drive low-carbon investment, with increased spending in the green economy, the removal of up to US$4 billion of fossil fuel industry tax breaks and projected increase of 40% in clean tech spending. It is likely to be fiercely resisted in the House of Representatives, but the backing of the business leaders offers the president high profile political support.