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Web 2.0: Opinion

An Inconvenient Truth: Free Up Market Forces to Tackle Climate Change

You can't legislate for innovation

It was former Presidential Candidate and founder of Electronic Data Systems (EDS) Ross Perot who famously said “The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river.”

A quote which may strike resonance with the world’s politicians as they continue to wrestle with the major challenge of setting a global green agenda whilst battling tough economic conditions.

President Obama’s second term inaugural speech certainly won plaudits for his determination to tackle climate change, his powerful statements deliberately pitched to be emotive on a global stage, whilst reassuring an American nation still reeling from the effects of hurricane Sandy.

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” And “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.” Now the world waits to see how these noble and heartfelt words translate from the pages to become actions?

And if the truth be known, the world is not holding its breath.

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, stated that he would ‘do his best to mobilise the political will and resources so that the member states can agree to a new legally binding global agreement on climate change” and this on the back of two decades of UN climate talks that have so-far failed in their goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Ironically it may not be the promise of new green jobs and taxation penalties ‘for the guilty ‘that tips the scales in favour of action but the force of Mother Nature herself. The devastation caused by natural disasters such as tsunamis and hurricanes impacts hugely on already fragile economic budgets (according to a report by insurance company Swiss Re, natural disasters were estimated to have cost the world's economies $140 bn in 2012 and over $350 bn in 2011)

No one seriously doubts that the world’s leaders do not want genuine and sustainable change but there is a real need now to cut through the greenwash and rhetoric and start delivering. We are already witnessing shifting priorities as Governments struggle with recession and debt crises. A move away from fossil fuels has long been touted as a key objective in the worldwide battle to reduce greenhouse gases, and yet in January, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported that global investment in all renewable energy had fallen by 11% in 2012, due largely to drops in government support in the US, Spain and Italy.

Last November, the International Energy Agency (IEA) stated that whilst the use of renewable energy was growing ‘quickly’, largely driven by Government subsidies, traditional fossil fuels received six times more subsidy than their low carbon counterparts.

But it’s not all bad news. Set against the pessimistic political outlook, real progress is being made at the coalface. The private sector, particularly technology industries, is embracing its environmental responsibilities and is citing traditional market forces as the driver - cost savings, competitive advantage, operational efficiency, customer and employee pressure, corporate policy and opportunity.

And it’s a big opportunity. Consultants Roland Berger recently predicted that the global market for environmental technology and resource efficiency currently totals more than €2tn and will grow at an annual rate of 5.6 per cent on average to the end of 2025.

The data centre industry for example, for so long viewed as an energy hungry monster and an easy target for Government legislators, is proving extremely adept at rising to the environmental challenge.

A recent survey of 1,110 global data centre owners and operators undertaken by the Uptime Institute revealed that 82 percent of respondents viewed energy-efficiency improvements as a way to reduce operational costs. Of those decision makers, 8 percent described their pursuit of energy efficiencies as motivated by a desire to keep pace with their industry peers and 47 percent said they were looking to free up capacity.  Microsoft’s announcement that it’s new $348M data centre planned for Virginia will be carbon neutral and built using the latest energy efficient technologies is testament to the Industry’s focus.

And of course the software and applications hosted in these data centres offer the world a raft of technological innovations that could aid us in the long term.

Innovation and a desire to reduce environmental impact is not hard to find in the private sector. As the world prepares to celebrate Valentine’s Day, UK retailer Marks & Spencer announces that it will be delivering thousands of bouquets in modified atmosphere packaging, saying it will save 10,000 litres of water through the use of this technology. How many people wandering around West Ham Tube station during last year's London Olympics realised that they generating kinetic power through the paving slabs they were walking on? UK start up Pavegen was in the midst of demonstrating that heavily populated streets could potentially generate enough electricity to power lights and applications. Many firms are now tackling the evil greenhouses gases head on and are harnessing and converting CO2 into products as diverse as baking soda, cement and plastic, all in the hope that their entrepreneurialism leads to both profit and the greater good.

Many economists agree that the best way to tackle climate change is to allow market forces to flourish whilst the most divisive method is to mandate or over legislate.

Obama’s first term was marked by the failure of his sweeping carbon emissions cap, the Australian Government suffered bruising after a failed attempt to introduce a Carbon Reduction schemes and more recently UK Prime Minister David Cameron was left to explain away the apparent apathy towards the Coalition's flagship "Green Deal" energy efficiency scheme claiming it was deliberately designed to “build slowly”.

What all Governments across the Globe are fast discovering is that the economic issue of climate change is complex and that no one size fits all ‘green solution’ will ever work for any industry.

Companies, and indeed consumers, must be given both the choice and the chance to adopt a ‘green’ model that suits their needs and that they can personally engage with on an emotional and fiscal level.

Allow us the freedom to become Activists.

Image from Shutterstock.

More Stories By Phil Worms

Phil is the Chief Marketing Officer of one of the UK's largest managed hosting and cloud computing services companies - iomart Group plc. He is a 30 year IT industry veteran, having started his career with BT plc, joining the company as it emerged into a brave new commercial world following privatisation.

A full and varied career has seen Phil move through various senior product/project and marketing positions with companies as diverse as Centrica plc, One.Tel and VarTec Telecom, Phil has been described as “an old head who has been around the block more than once” who “continues to be a powerhouse of ideas in all areas in which he provides his considerable experience to” - which probably means he should have been pensioned long ago.