NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly 100 corporations, international organizations and experts agreed to a plan on Tuesday to cut greenhouse gas emissions, calling on governments to act urgently against global warming.
“The politicians are lagging behind the business community,” said Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs at a press conference for the Global Roundtable on Climate Change. The organization presented its first major agreement since beginning talks in 2004.
The agreement seeks to lay out a framework for all countries to address the issue of climate change, said Sachs, adding “there is no way to solve this problem without China taking a role.”
Sachs, who heads Columbia’s Earth Institute, which is dedicated to achieving sustainable development, said he was confident that fast-growing economies like China and India would join in the effort to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.
The round-table, which includes executives from a range of industries including air transport, energy, and technology, called on governments to set targets for greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide emissions.
Its agreement, however, does not detail how those targets will be allocated among countries and how it would differentiate between highly industrialized and developing nations.
“We left it to the negotiators,” Sachs said.
The agreement urged governments to place a price on the carbon emissions released by power plants and factories to discourage emissions.
“Of course, addressing climate change involves risks and costs. But much greater is the risk of failing to act,” said Alain Belda, chairman and chief executive Alcoa, the world’s top aluminum producer, who signed the pact.
Other signatories include General Electric Co., Citigroup, DuPont, Volvo, American Electric Power Co. Inc. and Exelon Corp.
“We feel strongly that as an industry we are part of the problem,” said Tomas Ericson, president of Volvo Group, North America, but he added that “we are also part of the solution.”
President George W. Bush’s administration has rejected mandatory caps on emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases in the United States that contribute to a documented rise in world temperatures — which is linked to more severe storms, worse droughts, rising seas and other ills.
But the White House has recently been on the defensive, especially since the February 2 release of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which called global warming “unequivocal,” and said with 90 percent probability that human activities help cause it.
The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, or CO2, is about 30 percent higher than in 1900 and nearly half of the increase has occurred since 1980.
The largest carbon-emitting sector is power generation, responsible for more than 40 percent of global energy-related emissions.
Industry accounts for more than 18 percent of emissions, transport contributes another 20 percent, and the residential and services sector roughly 13 percent.
The Global Round-table on Climate Change estimates that technology to head off mounting CO2 concentrations would cost about 1 percent of global gross domestic products.
“The comparative costs are very low” and pale in comparison to inaction, said David Downie, director of the group.
Costs would fall further as technologies become more established, the group said.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was ratified by the United States in 1992 and sets out an overall framework for governments to tackle climate change.
President Bush pulled the United States out of the subsequent Kyoto global warming treaty. That treaty is set to expire in 2012.
The United States is still party to the 1992 agreement under which delegates meet once a year. At this year’s meeting in Bali, the world will begin to engage in discussions regarding the post-Kyoto world, according to Sachs.