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Climate Activists Look For Solutions From Business, Diplomats


Hundreds of world leaders and government ministers meet tomorrow in New York City for a summit on climate change. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened the meeting to rally support for new solutions to a warming climate. We have two stories now about that search for solutions.

First, as NPR's Christopher Joyce reports, climate activists are looking for action from the business world.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: The United Nations hosts a lot of climate meetings. Lately they've focused on trying to get governments to write up a new international treaty to lower greenhouse gas emissions. It would replace the treaty signed in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. So far, they've failed. The biggest fail was in 2009 in Copenhagen. President Barack Obama spoke at that meeting and expressed his misgivings.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have to be honest - as the world watches us today, I think our ability to take collective action is in doubt right now.

JOYCE: No treaty emerged from Copenhagen. So the climate summit this week in New York is different. Binding agreements are not on the table. Instead, it's a pep rally to get world leaders to volunteer something to limit warming. Then next year at the next big climate meeting in Paris, maybe they'll actually write a new treaty. But even those who want a global treaty wonder if it's possible. Michael Jenkins runs Forest Trends, which advocates for protecting forests as a sponge to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and slow warming.

The New York summit, he says, is an effort to make sure Paris isn't another failure.

MICHAEL JENKINS: It might be really discouraging in that we're not able to agree on a global issue. We don't have the makeup - we don't have the DNA in us to be able to come up with a global binding treaty.

JOYCE: But he says maybe a one-size-fits-all, U.N.-dominated treaty is not the only way to reduce emissions.

JENKINS: You know, bilateral agreements between countries like China and the U.S. or Brazil and the U.S. - we might be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together with that kind of a plan B.

JOYCE: And whether it's a global treaty or a series of bilateral agreements, that plan B would have to include business in a way that the Kyoto treaty did not. In fact, there's been an avalanche of studies and reports in the buildup to the New York summit. That essentially say...

MINDY LUBBER: The game has changed.

JOYCE: Mindy Lubber is president of Ceres, a coalition of corporations, investors and nonprofits that are concerned about climate change's effects on the economy.

LUBBER: Having the economy lurched backwards and forwards by monumental changes in weather patterns serves nobody.

JOYCE: Lubber says more businesses now fear that things like changing weather patterns pose financial risks; risks like the prolonged drought in the Western U.S. now.

LUBBER: If you're running a manufacturing business and you may not have enough water due to implications from climate and water shortages, that's a bad business move. So a lot of action has focused on risk.

JOYCE: Like reducing the reliance on fossil fuels. So at this climate summit, business leaders are much in evidence. Among them is Steve Howard, the sustainability manager for the furniture giant, IKEA.

STEVE HOWARD: I'd like to see in New York a much stronger voice from businesses that say, if you're ready to act on this, or you're already acting, we're with you.

JOYCE: Howard says IKEA is investing in wind and solar energy and now sells only the most efficient lighting. He acknowledges that the world economy still depends on coal and oil, the biggest sources of greenhouse gases. They can't just be switched off.

HOWARD: We're going to be needing fossil fuels for a long time to come. That will be a managed transition, but there will be winners and losers.

JOYCE: Now companies like IKEA are joining climate activists to argue that if fossil loses, other parts of the economy will gain. Last week, for example, the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate published a study that says economies can grow by investing in renewable energy.

British economist Lord Nicholas Stern is one of the authors.

LORD NICHOLAS STERN: Too often, we've seen this expressed as some kind of artificial horse race between growth on one hand and climate responsibility on the other.

JOYCE: In New York, delegates will offer green energy projects on the growth side. On the responsibility side, limits on carbon emissions and a plan to give developing countries money to save their forests as so-called carbon sinks.

These are pledges though, not promises. And the reality the world has to grapple with is that oil is still the planet's largest provider of energy. Number two - coal. Christopher Joyce, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Christopher Joyce is a correspondent on the science desk at NPR. His stories can be heard on all of NPR's news programs, including NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.
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