Can big business succeed in saving the climate, where government has failed? That’s the question tackled by Jerry Patchell and Roger Hayter in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. They argue that the Montreal Protocol was successful in slashing emissions of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) because it gave companies a “clear and short deadline” for action. Climate negotiations, on the other hand, have not pushed companies to develop and use GHG-reducing technologies. International climate agreements may need to take a more targeted approach, concentrating on energy-intensive industries, perhaps forcing companies into climate “clubs” that would set targets and share knowledge.
Their thesis reminded me of a conversation I had this week with Jeff Lyng, senior policy advisor at Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy. (We’ll publish the interview in our EL Analysts series next week.) Lyng noted that while renewable portfolio standards have been a powerful tool for states to push adoption of clean energy technologies, in some cases companies are ahead of government, looking to adopt more renewable energy than the policies have been able to foster. I see it as an instructive reversal of the accepted wisdom about environment, regulation and business, the tired old line about bureaucrats holding back companies’ economic growth with their pesky rules about environmental minutiae. More and more, companies are leading the charge – and lumbering governments often struggle to keep up.
Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor at Environmental Leader PRO.
Image of ozone depletion from NASA.