Plant & Works Engineering

Avoiding climate change hijacking

Published:  27 October, 2007

The CBI (Confederation of British Industry) is joining the fight against global warming in this country. Mitsubishi Electric's Energy Spokesman Jeff Whiting welcomes them to the energy lobby, but says they need to prove their commitment with long term deeds.

CBI Director General Richard Lambert has urged world leaders to set aside their disagreements and work together to find a global solution to climate change. "The Stern Review has set out a compelling economic case for international action,” he said.

Not that many years ago, the CBI would not have address world leaders so. It would have focused on creating better business environment, which it would have defined in purely economic terms.

But now the CBI has set up a climate change task force consisting of Chairmen and Chief Executives from some of the UK"s biggest companies. Its Chairman is BT Chief Executive Ben Verwaayen and he wants to set the agenda on how business tackles climate change. He is promising a report later this year with wide-ranging recommendations for action.

In this he is recognising we are now entering a low carbon environment, where everybody has to reassess their patterns of energy usage, and be prepared to change or pay heavily.
This seems good, but some questions need to be reviewed, most notably: how much relevant technology expertise has been invited to this top table?

The task force takes the Stern Report as its starting point. Its terms of reference are to establish the role business can play in tackling climate change and recommend the actions that are necessary to enable business to make that contribution. The group will come to its own 'independent’ conclusions and will make recommendations to the UK Government, individual businesses and the CBI itself.

This too seems good; but it is self-evaluation. Surely adding the voices of a couple of non-aligned professors, maybe an independent lawyer or a senior journalist would have lent weight to the proposals. And certainly some engineers would have helped guide discussions in the right direction.

This committee surely presents engineers with an opportunity to present the technology case at board level, and it is incumbent upon us to achieve this. Engineers are not theorists; we have the expert knowledge and experience that is needed. We must stand up and be heard.

The real rub is that huge amounts of technology to tackle global warming already exist, but they are massively underused. The capital outlay for their installation has not been made available - withheld by people very like those on the CBI task force.
The CBI should understand that there is no need to wait for emerging technologies, as America seems to be doing. Action can – and must - begin immediately.

So is Lambert playing a clever game when he says: "The challenge now is for the business community, Government and society as a whole to decide how to respond. This poses a challenge to business, as a major source of emissions, but it also presents significant opportunities.
Again, this all sound commendable: but given that the science is proven, technology is available and political will is catching up with public desire, the task force’s only conclusion can be that immediate and dramatic moves are required.

But it is unrealistic to expect companies to take such actions of their own free will. Quite simply legislation is the only option, and the CBI’s interest must not be allowed to become a play for time.

Verwaayen has said: "The risks presented by climate change are too big to ignore. The challenge for the task force is to identify solutions which address the issues of climate change without harming the competitiveness of British business."

Dramatic energy cost rises means that we must implement energy saving technologies if we are to remain competitive. And this becomes even more appropriate when we put energy trading into the equation.
On the face of it British industry is rising to the challenges of climate change in a formidable and thoroughly appropriate way. So if the CBI is serious it will very quickly acknowledge that many of the technological solutions already exist, and concentrate on formulating a way to instigate their prompt use. This should be the first point in their first report, and it should be published within a very few months.
Interestingly the CBI itself pointed to a way forward when it referred to ‘society as a whole’. This means that the public also has a responsibility to do its bit too - and part of ‘its bit’ is to make sure that CBI policies on climate change are more than window dressing and spurious marketing claims.

Those of us who are Corporals rather than Captains of Industry must hold the CBI task force to account. Their reports, actions and long term performance must be held up to public scrutiny and careful analysis by those engineers who have relevant expert knowledge at their fingertips.

We can draw an analogy with the UK fishing industry, which is all but gone because we couldn’t find the right way forward with the limited resources. Instead of protecting our fish stocks, the various sides of the industry used them as a weapon to leverage commercial advantage. If we do the same with climate change, the results will be disaster 10 or twenty years down the line.

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