Economic growth and environmental improvement are not mutually exclusive.
Around the world, society faces the challenge of balancing two equally critical imperatives: on the one hand, economic growth and human progress; on the other, environmental sustainability and stewardship for future generations. Some question whether these two imperatives can be met simultaneously. Perhaps, they posit, balancing the economy and the environment is a zero-sum game, with improvements in one area coming at the expense of improvements in the other.
As a general rule, USCIB members do not buy in to the concept of zero-sum games, especially in this area. We believe that environmental and economic progress can, and indeed must, go hand in hand. Because of our unique positioning in the global policymaking sphere, we are now uniquely poised to press policy makers to put that belief to the test in the area of climate change.
This December, diplomatic efforts to develop a long-term international agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol will culminate in a major United Nations conference in Copenhagen. Working primarily through the International Chamber of Commerce, USCIB is actively seeking a global framework that will provide energy access and security, while spurring technological innovation and the deployment of climate-friendly technologies to enable us to meet the common challenge of curtailing greenhouse gas emissions.
And this is not just our position. As reported in an earlier issue of International Business, participants at a pre-Copenhagen business summit involving influential business groups from all the major emitting countries surprised even themselves with a remarkable degree of consensus around these key points. Clearly, business is on board and will push hard for an effective global agreement on climate.
But one does need to wonder whether our elected officials feel the same sense of urgency. It is worrisome that, in debating the establishment of a cap-and-trade mechanism for the United States, Congress is seriously weighing the imposition of “green” tariffs to punish those who may not live up to our own new standards. This is precisely how one might wreck the chances for progress in Copenhagen.
Indeed, there is entirely too much talk of sticks, rather than carrots, in the climate debate. There are clearly win-win opportunities in a post-Kyoto framework that would enable countries to grow economically while reducing emissions. But we must keep markets open while fostering innovation.
American companies are up to the climate challenge, and indeed would benefit from lower barriers to imports of environmental technologies abroad. The U.S. and other major governments in developed and developing countries must support the private sector’s proven ability to commercialize and disseminate the fruits of innovation. Open trade is an essential part of that formula.
Sustainable development matters, perhaps even more so during a time of recession and scarce resources. It is possible to secure global prosperity while protecting the world’s climate, but only with strong and sensible leadership from all major parties. We hope that leadership to advance economic recovery and encourage greener solutions in a mutually supportive fashion will emerge between now and December. The world can’t wait much longer.
Other recent postings from Mr. Robinson: