Company bosses grow cooler over global warming concerns

Survey shows climate change is at the very bottom in the list of firms' worries

Some of the sheen came off the UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa, yesterday, as a key new business survey found that global warming has fallen to the bottom of the league of European company concerns.

A cocktail of competing "events", ranging from the recession to the Arab Spring, have collectively taken chief executives' eyes off the climate change ball, significantly reducing the time, effort and money they are planning to invest to combat its effects, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) which compiled the report.

As a result, European chief executives say that global warming is now having a smaller impact on strategy and investment decisions than any of the seven other key events the report has identified as most influencing company behaviour.

This puts climate change below issues such as the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, the earthquake and nuclear crisis in Japan, the Arab Spring uprisings, competition to secure affordable natural resources and concerns about rising poverty and inequality.

Last year, climate change came in at second place in the league table.

The failure to agree specific targets for cutting emissions in Durban will do nothing to push global warming back up the business agenda, warned the report.

Jonathan Grant, director of sustainability and climate change at PwC, said: "Business will shrug its shoulders over Durban and wait for direction from national capitals.

"There is still no more ambition here than what we saw in Cancun or even Copenhagen. What we got instead was a clear signal that we might get another clear signal in 2015.

"Business investment in low carbon and climate change strategies has to fight for attention," Mr Grant added.

However, business leaders and environmental campaigners alike acknowledged that the summit represented a breakthrough.

In a deal which was brokered at the last minute by Connie Hedegaard, the Dane who is the EU's leading climate change negotiator and her Indian opposite number, Jayanthi Natarajan, China, the US and India agreed for the first time to be legally bound to reduce their emissions.

This commitment formed part of a broader, binding reduction agreement involving both developed and developing countries.

But observers pointed out that without specific targets and deadlines for emissions cuts, the agreement would be unlikely to have much, if any, impact on business behaviour. The plan is to agree the terms by 2015 and implement them in 2020.

Howard Johns, chairman of the Solar Trade Association, said: "Any agreement being drawn up is a good thing, but I'm not sure this will have a great impact on business behaviour."

Rhian Kelly, CBI director for Business Environment, said the Durban agreement was "a good result", but cautioned "this isn't a deal itself and must be used as the base camp for the mountain we're still to climb".

Jamie Adam, central development officer of Community Energy Scotland, a charity advising on renewable energy generation and carbon neutral projects, added: "It's hardly a surprise that global warming has fallen down the agenda, given the economic situation. But it's a very short-term perspective to ignore climate change and hope that it's going to go away.

"It's important to recognise that there are still huge opportunities for businesses and communities to develop income streams through renewable energy," Mr Adam said.