Phase out fossil fuels to limit temperatures, a few CEOs say

PARIS (Reuters) - Heads of companies including Unilever and Virgin Group urged a Paris summit on Sunday to get on track to limit temperature rises to the lowest possible level by setting a goal of phasing out fossil fuel use by 2050.

Hundreds of environmentalists arrange their bodies to form a message of hope and peace in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, December 6, 2015, as the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) continues at Le Bourget near the French capital. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

In an unusual alliance spanning companies and civil society, the “B Team” is an extreme in the business world by arguing that radical measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions can promote, rather than hinder, growth, jobs and profits.

Last month, they called on the Paris summit, held on Nov. 30-Dec. 11, to set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” by 2050, by when any emissions would be offset, for instance by planting trees that soak up greenhouse gases as they grow.

On Sunday, members of the team said such a goal - highly unlikely to be agreed in Paris because most governments are far less ambitious - would be the best chance to limit rising temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit).

The overriding U.N. goal is to limit temperature rises to 2 degrees (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, but more than 100 developing nations including small island states at risk from rising seas want a ceiling of 1.5 degrees.

“We are pushing definitely for 2 Celsius, with the door open for 1.5,” Keith Tuffley, CEO of the B Team, told reporters.

“Economic growth and action on climate can go hand-in-hand,” said Poul Polman, chief executive of consumer goods maker Unilever.

They say they are not just burnishing their green credentials, but also changing corporate plans. Last month, Unilever said it would switch to using only renewable energy by 2030 and stop using energy from coal by 2020.

Richard Branson, head of Virgin, said the B Team would continue calling for tough action even if the Paris summit falls short of strong action. “It would be irresponsible not to act,” he said.

Other members of the B Team include David Crane, head of NRG Energy and Zhang Yue, chairman of BROAD Group, and Sharan Burrow, head of the International Trade Union Confederation.

She said: “For workers it’s very simple. There are no jobs on a dead planet”.

Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Digby Lidstone