The Copenhagen conference – aimed at establishing rules that will supersede the Kyoto agreement – is undeniably a formidable challenge.
Differences between countries on the issues of burden sharing, financing mechanisms and the protection of intellectual property are very real. And for this reason my fear is that we may end up with a bad agreement that neither helps the planet nor promotes a healthier economic climate for European industry.
Under a French Presidency, the European Union took the lead with a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, and even by 30 per cent in the event of a satisfactory international agreement in December. France is further committed to a 25 per cent reduction in fossil fuel consumption by 2020 and to tight restrictions on energy use in new and existing buildings, as well as measures to support renewable energy sources and a “greener” transport infrastructure.
Energy efficiency, it should be stressed, is one of the most vital parts of the solution and one where St Gobain’s building materials division is able to help. Carbon emissions from buildings, after all, represent about 20 per cent of the total amount of carbon emitted globally and there is huge potential to do something about this in an affordable and positive way, both through technological innovation and through new regulation. Such initiatives, importantly, will also create new employment.
Far from slowing the momentum, indeed, I strongly believe that the present crisis can accelerate moves toward a low-carbon economy. Energy efficiency is at the heart of our stimulus plans on both sides of the Atlantic to reignite growth. This said, while we at St Gobain strongly support an ambitious agenda for Copenhagen, our central concern is to ensure that the European industrial landscape remains competitive and that we avoid unilateral commitments that put our region at a disadvantage.
Companies have been calling for a stable framework. Industry needs visibility and transparency on what politicians intend to achieve in the way of reductions over the longer term (up to 2050), on what new competition rules should be implemented, and how the negotiators plan to establish a price for carbon. Will there be border taxes, emission taxes or carbon quotas – and if the latter what trading mechanism will be used?
European industry will inevitably struggle to make cuts of 20 to 30 per cent. But we are ready to stand up and be counted provided all the developed countries of the world sign up to the same targets as those proposed by the EU, provided the largest emerging economies agree to stabilize their emission levels in the medium term and then reduce them, and provided poorer nations are also willing to make a contribution to the effort in return for financial aid.
Above all, the measures taken must be in the context of promoting economic growth, whilst the sacrifices should be shared between the different industrial sectors (favoring those who strive to make the biggest efficiencies).
Pierre-André de Chalendar is CEO of St Gobain.