Corporations battle over European emissions targets

Reading the business pages, you might think that sustainability darlings like Ikea, Siemens, Novo Nordisk, Unilever and Nokia dominate the EU business community. That is by no means the case -- especially in a time of economic downturn.

Right now, big corporations are nervously fighting among themselves over the EU’s climate and energy policy. The most active business organization, Business Europe, is lobbying heavily against higher ambitions, a move that contradicts the conventional picture of a mostly green European business community.

Business Europe is the umbrella organization of 41 national business organizations in the 27-member states, similar to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in structure and political profile. It has no serious competitors and can, unchallenged, claim to speak on behalf of the entire European business community, including small, medium and big businesses. Which it likes to do. “European industry says that….” is a phrase often used in its press releases.

Business Europe officially supports EU climate and energy strategies, acknowledging the need to “…ensure sustainable access to and use of resources without causing environmental problems that disrupt supply chains, hamper important eco-systems, cause dangerous climate change or negatively affect biodiversity.” Anything less is, of course, an absolute no-go in European circles.

The terms for action, however, are cleverly prohibitive. Action must not “hurt the competitiveness of the European industry” and legislation must be based on “truly global and balanced climate agreement, including the world’s major emitters.” Which -- in real life -- means “no,” “nein,” “non” and “nej” to just about all decisions, considering that global regulations are nowhere in sight.

Business Europe’s lobbying has made it unpopular among some of the leading European businesses, including the green champions, as well as progressive companies in the energy sector.

Last year, a set of the biggest energy companies signed a declaration urging Europe’s leaders to adopt a 25 percent emissions-reduction target by 2020. Signatories included CEOs of Scottish Southern Energy, Eneco, Dong, Statkraft, Sorgenia and Public Power Corporation. Other nonenergy companies supported them, including Danone, Aviva, Unibail and Bodegas. They were later joined by a similar call from real heavyweights -- Acciona, Alstom, Barilla, Cemex, Deutsche Telekom, Enel, Kingfisher, Johnson & Johnson, Nestlé, Philips, Renault-Nissan Alliance, Shell, Skai, Skanska, Tesco, Vodafone, Unilever and UTC, orchestrated by the Cambridge-based Corporate Leaders Group.

Most of these companies are members of Business Europe organizations, which you'd think might give the business organization some pause. As Hein Greven, a spokesman for Enerco, said: "If they're against the ambition to go to 25 percent in 2020, they're not speaking for Enerco."

Next page: Frustration mounts