Lucy Lawless made her name playing Xena: Warrior Princess. Now she is facing jail after a protest on board an Arctic oil drilling ship. So what turned her into an ecowarrior?
Lucy Lawless, cult actor, mother of three and
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Guardian/ICM poll reveals public perception of climate change remains consistent despite political shift during financial crisis
The cold financial climate of the last three years has made little impact on public attitudes towards global warming, according to a new Guardian/ICM poll.
As the world assembled for the Rio+20 UN sustainable development at the end of last week, the survey found that a majority of British voters (57%) accept that man-made climate change is happening. That is one point more than the 56% who took the same view when ICM posed a near-identical question just ahead of the Copenhagen climate conference of 2009.
The poll identified a hardcore of 7% of respondents who deny the planet is getting warmer, two points more than the 5% who said the same at the time of Copenhagen. The proportion who accept the planet is warming but insist this is not principally due to human factors has dwindled slightly, from 33% in December 2009 to 30% today.
The results suggest a remarkable pattern of stability in acceptance of climate change as established fact, a finding which may surprise politicians who have been lowering their environmental ambitions for fear of appearing out of step with hard times. The leaders who went to Rio were so resigned to an insubstantial outcome that they allowed their sherpas to agree the basic communique before they had even arrived.
A follow-up question on impressions of the summit also revealed more continuity than change. Only 17% of voters dismissed the Rio summit as a panic about an exaggerated threat – exactly the same proportion who said the same of Copenhagen.
But if the voters have not moved much, the same cannot be said of politicians. Whereas David Cameron had hailed Copenhagen’s “historic importance” as opposition leader, in the months running up to Rio, he licensed his chancellor to argue that “we’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business“.
One thing that may help understand this shifting political positioning is a sense that – among that majority of voters who do acknowledge a climate change problem – the subject has slipped a little down the list of priorities. After three years of squeezed living standards, more of the people who accept carbon emissions need curbing warn leaders not to “lose sight of the need to maintain human prosperity”. The number taking this view has edged up from 45% to 50% since Copenhagen. Meanwhile, the most committed environmentalists – those who describe the climate as “the most serious threat facing mankind” – have dwindled somewhat. Before Copenhagen, 30% were in that camp; today its strength has fallen back to 27%.
The modest swing towards putting economics before the environment is somewhat more marked among Tory supporters and backers of minor parties, and it could be that Conservative high command fear that excessively green positions could see the party surrendering some rightwing voters to Ukip. On the basic facts, however, a plurality of the supporters of all three parties are in agreement: 49% of Conservatives, 61% of Labour supporters and 67% of Lib Dems believe in man-made climate change. Even if some differences in the rhetoric between different political leaders is emerging, most voters appear to accept climate science, regardless of their own party affiliation.
ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,002 adults aged 18+ by telephone on 22-24 June 2012. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
With a disappointing political outcome at Rio+20, the president of the WBCSD says the only option is for business to spring into action and implement change at scale
Peter Bakker, the president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Business (WBCSD), believes that the corporate sector currently offers the best opportunity for saving the world.
Following the disappointing political outcome of Rio+20, he is on a mission to encourage business to move away from visioning the future and writing glossy reports to implementing change at scale.
Like other business leaders at Rio, he recognises that global solutions are unlikely in times of economic and financial crises, and the best alternative is to build coalitions at a more local level, with individual countries and cities, or as he and many others refer to them as “the coalitions of the willing.”
He rejects criticism that the 1,000 businesses that descended on Rio are not serious about creating change, pointing out that the 200 CEOs who attended the Business Action for Sustainable Development conference in Rio “don’t fly to bullshit around, but to have real discussions.”
Bakker, who has been in the post for six months, represents a refreshing younger and more radical voice amongst businesses, and some of the WBCSD’s more progressive members hope he is not held back by the older and more conservative CEOs who still make up the majority of the organisation’s membership.
A four point action plan has been developed by Bakker and he plans to spend the next few months getting it properly underway. The WBCSD will focus on sector and cross-sector coalitions, dialogue with government and encouraging more companies to join the progressive business camp.
“We have a global emergency and a global process which is completely not working to address that emergency” he says. “The last six months of negotiations has been very troublesome.
“There is no point in saying business is not doing its best or some are trying to sabotage change. Life is very simple in my mind, there are good people and bad people and good companies and bad companies.
“You can go home from Rio totally frustrated and create absolutely nothing, but if you see the result as half full, despite the disappointment, you will see hooks for processes, dialogues and for agreements around targets.
“I go back to the office and will write a positive and tough message to my members saying now it is time to kick into action. We need to create coalitions of the people who want to be good, who have plans to progress and make it attractive for other people to follow. The 20% of really bad guys we need to regulate out of existence.”
Bakker says companies are developing their approaches to sustainability, pointing out that 20 years ago most business leaders could not spell sustainability yet now serious companies have strategies and reporting as well as specialist staff.
But he says the WBCSD needs itself to make a step change by no longer concentrating on seeking to educate business.
“The time of creating awareness is behind us,” he says. “If you are not aware today then you are not a global leader in business so now we are going to concentrate on the scaling of solutions.
“In the past we would all work hard to write a brilliant report and then thought the job was done. Now if we write a report, that’s when the project starts.
“I don’t want self-satisfaction, which I saw at the corporate leaders forum in Rio, or people bringing me stories of CSR achievements. The truth is if you add up all the CSR programmes across the world and all the 200 plus commitments from this week, we are not nearly going to save the world.”
So what about Bakker’s four point plan. Well, firstly he plans to extend the WBCSD’s sector led coalitions to the tyre and chemicals industries.
He said success had already been achieved in the cement and forest sectors, which had provided great examples of how companies can share best practice and create common measurement and reporting standards.
Where he sees most potential, however, is creating cross-sector working groups that can create change at city level. Bakker met this week with the mayor of Rio who is keen to look at creating a collaborative project.
“With the majority of the world’s population living in cities, this is where we need to concentrate on creating change,” he says. “We need to take a systems point of view as a car company cannot make a city sustainable. We need to include every other sector such as public transport, construction and utilities.”
Where Bakker feels there needs to be innovation is in the whole field of reporting and this Autumn he will launch a major new project to help create a common methodology for companies to integrate impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity into accounting systems.
Although the project plan has not yet been finalised, more than 50 companies have already signed up to take part.
“I am going to push extremely hard on this notion of integrated reporting,” says Bakker. “The furthest front runner is Jochen Zeitz of Puma and PPR with his E P&L model and we need to find how this can work for all companies. We need to move to a world where non-financial reporting becomes rule-based.
“We need to think how do you change the way you think about the performance of a business so that you align the business with the world we want to create. We all talk about green growth but what do we mean by it and for us it has to be about growth which is inclusive.”
Bakker says it is vital to have a common reporting methodology and points to the fact that while most major companies now report their CO2 emissions, it is impossible to compare them because there is no agreed accounting rule.
While the WBCSD is putting its focus on accounting for nature, Bakker is only too aware that work also needs to start on the much more complex task of working out how companies can account for their social impacts. Puma has already started work on this.
“I was a voluntary ambassador against hunger for UN general secretary Ban Ki-Moon,” says Bakker. “I have seen people die from hunger and it is beyond a tragedy; it is amazing you and I can sleep at night when we know what is going on. We need to empower women. It is not acceptable that women are not part of this.”
Creating new accounting frameworks, however, won’t have the desired effect unless the financial system starts to put a value on companies’ sustainability performance. This is the reason Bakker also plans to bring together financial companies to look at ensuring this happens.
“The valuation of a business has to change and that’s why I need the banking sector to value these commitments,” he says. “If the capital markets measured the sustainability of companies then people like Paul Polman at Unilever would be seen as a god.”
What Bakker does not mention directly is the other side of the equation, that if the City does not put a value on sustainability, CEOs like Polman could be brought down if they have two quarters in a row of poor performance, with city figures likely to blame him for paying too much attention to saving the world rather than driving profits. He has already made enemies by challenging the status quo and no longer giving quarterly guidance.
However, Bakker does raise this concern more generally: “There are economic interests and most CEOs are not the owners of what they manage. In some of these transitions to including the externalities, there will be big shifts in economic systems and these need to be managed carefully because you do not all of a sudden want to kill something that is not yours, because then you will get a revolution from the other side, the capital markets, and you need to manage that.”
The US has seen the first rise in carbon dioxide emissions since the 2008 recession, new data shows. Meanwhile China has sped into the lead as the world gathers for the Rio+20 summit. See how each country compares
• Interactive guide
• Get the data
• Data journalism and data visualisations from the Guardian
• Previous year’s data
The world emits 48% more carbon dioxide from the consumption of energy now than it did in 1992 when the first Rio summit took place.
The new data shows the rise of Asia, big increases in emissions in Africa, how Europe has plateaued – and how Iran has shot up the league table.
China – the world’s biggest emitter of CO2 – has increased by 240%, as
The new data, published by the US Energy Information Administration this week, is the most comprehensive carbon emissions data with statistics for over 200 countries around the world since 1980.
The world emitted 31.8bn tonnes of carbon from the consumption of energy in 2010 – up 6.7% on the year before. The figure is up by 48% on 1992, when the first Rio summit took place.
China – which only went into first place in 2006 – is racing ahead of the US, too. It emitted 8.3bn tonnes of CO2 in 2010 – up 240% on 1992, 15.5% on the previous year.
Meanwhile, US emissions are up for the first time since recession hit in 2008, in a sign of how closely pollution is linked to economic success.
Here are some of the key facts:
• China now emits 48% more CO2 than the USA – and is responsible for a quarter of the world’s emissions
• The UK’s emissions are down 8% on 1992, and it has moved from 7th to 10th place since 1992
• In contrast, Iran has moved from 21st place to 8th place in 2010, overtaking the UK and Canada
• Gibraltar has the highest per capita emissions in the world – 135.3 tonnes per person per year, compared to 8.5 tonnes in the UK and 6.3 tonnes in China
There are other sources of emissions data too, if you want to compare – albeit not as up-to-date:
• The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) gathers the data on world carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. This is only available up to 2008.
• the International Energy Agency (IEA) has global carbon emissions data up to 2009
The full data from the EIA is below. What can you do with it?
With the political process paralysed, Unilever’s Paul Polman urges progressive business to show courage and leadership
In the inter-dependent world in which we live, it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the language of NGOs and the top tier of progressive business leaders.
Just listen to what Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, one of the world’s biggest companies, had to say when I caught up with him after he took part in the launch of the Natural Capital Declaration at the Rio+20 convention centre: “The very essence of capitalism is under threat as business is now seen as a personal wealth accumulator.
“We have to bring this world back to sanity and put the greater good ahead of self-interest.
“We need to fight very hard to create an environment out there that is more long term focussed and move away from short termism.”
Polman is clearly on a mission and says the lack of ambition shown by politicians at Rio +20 will lead to him redoubling his efforts to work with other business leaders and NGOs to seek change on a global level.
While he said the final negotiating text was a race to the bottom, the most interesting trend is the emergence of clusters of countries and companies who are prepared to just get on with creating change.
Polman does not countenance failure and shows relentless optimism even when the odds are stacked against him. While, like most Dutch men, he is taller than average, he also reminds me of the dwarf warrior Gimli in Lord of the Rings.
When the few face the vast army of evil, he turns to his comrades in arms: “Certainty of death, small chance of success… what are we waiting for?”
Here is what Polman has to say about the political outcomes of Rio: “We are in an inter-dependent world where unfortunately the governmental processes are very local and to internalise these global problems at the political level is proving difficult.
“Criticising never leads to anything. The final text has a lot of good elements and there is a declaration for the oceans and a starting process for the Sustainable Development Goals.
“It recognises an increasing role for business and paints a picture of green growth and a future for the world that we can relate to.”
But on the other side of the scales, Polman recognises that the text “lacks specificity, clear dates, funding and accountability.”
He says the very point of weakness within the political agreement, is where the corporate sector can step in.
“This is where business can excel,” he says. “Amongst business there is now a critical mass forming around deforestation and energy for all, as companies say we cannot continue like this.
“We are entering a very interesting period of history where the responsible business world is running ahead of the politicians. The political climate is very difficult and to some extent paralysed.
“Over the next two to three years I believe there will be enough critical mass with groups of countries and companies starting tangible projects. As with many change programmes, when you create some success around some specific tangible projects, it will attract others. There are leaders and followers and laggards in everything.”
For those businesses that are not responding to the sustainability challenges of our age, Polman has a very simple message: “Short termism is very dangerous as it is five minutes to 12. You can delay but time will not, and lost time is never regained.”
For those companies who have begun to grapple with facing up to the reality that business models need to start changing, he offers encouragement: “Continue to be courageous and set the standards. Work with your consumers, because we have seen how Facebook and Twitter can bring down a regime in 17 days. Social networks are increasingly becoming more powerful. We need a critical mass of responsible leaders who are here to convert these markets.”
Polman is becoming increasingly frustrated with the role of media which itself seems to be stuck in an old paradign. He was recently interviewed by CNN and one of the questions was how could he justify any extra costs from his sustainability programme to shareholders.
“I answered how can companies who are not taking action, justify this to their shareholders and to their own families,” he says. “Just look at the figures. Unless we change direction, models show that the profit of the entire consumer goods sector could be wiped out by 2050. This is also a warning to many others.”
Polman says much more needs to be done to ensure sustainability is embedded into the financial community. While he points out that environment, social and governance criteria now account for 10% of assets held, many investments are being made by young men looking to build their careers rather than save the world.
“We need to do a better job to explain what we are doing to the investment community,” says Polman. “There is a lack of understanding and we ought to be concerned about that because these are the 25-year-olds who are investing your pension. You better start talking to them.”
He says he is concerned by the interview I did with Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace International, in which he said the failure of the Rio summit means the campaigning NGO needs to go on a war footing and engage in waves of civil disobedience.
“We have to participate in finding the solutions and set the bar even higher and that is true also for Greenpeace and WWF,” says Polman. “They are good organisations representing the world’s citizens.
“I say to Kumi, use your passion, use your enthusiasm, don’t give up, the world needs people like him. If NGOs started withdrawing from the process, I would want to help prevent that for the greater good of society. That will not lead to anything and after some reflection I hope he will see it is the most common sense approach to take.”
Polman says the world is at a crossroads and that we can choose either to head for disaster or to work together to find common solutions: “Never have we been forewarned about what will happen and forearmed to do something about it and we must now rise to the challenge,” he says.
“The alternative? It is too late to be pessimistic. The alternative of not doing anything. I frankly cannot look my kids in the eyes and say we did not try. That is why we are here and will continue to give it our energy.”
Twenty years ago, amid the murderous Bosnian war’s initial exchanges, hopes for the stark contrast of sustainable development emerged at the UN Earth summit in Rio. Today, as the summit returns to its birthplace (Report, 16 June), communities around the globe will rue how politicians have allowed multinational companies to turn such bright hopes into despair. Financial investors’ speculative greed has brought many economies to their knees, with the poorest citizens hit the hardest by mass unemployment and savage cuts in public services.
And in a month the London Olympics will promote itself as the zenith for global fair play, while sponsors like Adidas (sweatshops), BP (Gulf of Mexico) and Dow (Bhopal) rake in huge sums, despite human and environmental abuse. More than 100 civil society organisations from every continent now join forces in a new major campaign, Stop Corporate Impunity, to dismantle corporations’ power and end their impunity. If world leaders at the summit duck growing demands to put the needs of people and the planet before big business profits, they will condemn millions to further decades of dire hardship and destruction.
Graciela Romero War on Want, Karen Lang Transnational Institute, Henry Saraghi La Via Campasina International
• Unlike many of the political decision-makers attending Rio+20, we will probably still be around for Rio+40, Rio+60, Rio+80 and beyond. And yet young people will have little part in the decisions made at this week’s summit that will shape the planet that our generation will inherit. Last week we came down from Sheffield, where we are students, for a meeting with Nick Clegg in London. We told him it is vital for him to speak up for children at Rio. Children are always more vulnerable to effects of drought, conflict and hunger, bearing the daily consequences of problems whose cause they have no hand in.
Ruby Smith Chair, Unicef UK Sheffield regional fundraising group, Joanna Bracken and Rachel Hall Sheffield University Unicef UK on campus group
Lagarde says world risks falling incomes, environmental damage and social unrest without more sustainable approach to growth
Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, has warned that the world risks a triple crisis of declining incomes, environmental damage and social unrest unless countries adopt a more sustainable approach to economic growth.
Ahead of the Rio+20 Earth summit later this month, she said the rich should restrain their demands for higher incomes while there are still 200 million people worldwide looking for a job and poverty is on the rise.
Giving her clearest backing yet to green taxes and a range of measures to protect the environment, she argued for taxes on petrol-guzzling cars among a range of green measures to tackle climate change.
“It has been 20 years since world leaders first went to Rio to commit to the noble goal of protecting the planet for future generations. And now, 20 years on, we will be journeying back to Rio to affirm our commitment to sustainable development – the idea that we should strive for economic growth, environmental protection and social progress at the same time,” she said in a speech in Washington on Tuesday.
“The idea that different economic, environmental and social objectives can be seen as distinct aspects of a single vision, essential parts of a connected whole.”
But she said the current economic crisis in Europe and slowing growth worldwide, coupled with the growing threat from climate change and social tensions could wreck the efforts of leaders to chart a more sustainable future.
“Over the past four years, we have been mired in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And we are not out of it yet.
“In fact, tensions are on the rise again, and financial stability risks have once more moved front and centre. Great uncertainty hangs over global prospects.
“Too many regions today are still stuck in a trap of low growth and high unemployment,” she said.
“Right now, 200 million people worldwide cannot find work, including 75 million young people trying to take their first step on the ladder of success.
“So we need a strategy that is good for stability and good for growth – where stability is conducive to growth and growth facilitates stability.”
Lagarde, a right-wing former French finance minister, recently caused a storm of controversy after she accused Europeans of blocking progress to end the current financial crisis. Asked if she sympathised with Greeks impoverished by austerity measurers demanded by Brussels, she said the children of Niger were more her concern. It also emerged that Lagarde pays no tax on her $467,940 (£298,675) a year salary.
Ahead of the summit, she said taxes on petrol and other carbon fuels could raise billions of dollars for green investment projects. “Right now, less than 10% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are covered by formal pricing programmes. Only a handful of cities charge for the use of gridlocked roads. Farmers in rich countries are undercharged – if charged at all – for increasingly scarce water resources.”
She added: “Many countries continue to subsidise polluting energy systems. These subsidies are costly for the budget and costly for the planet. Countries should reduce them. But in doing so, they must protect vulnerable groups by tightly focusing subsidies on products used by poorer people, and by strengthening social safety nets.”