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Big business is the climate's new friend as Copenhagen begins

Talked about for weeks, campaigned on for months, and finally underway this morning in Copenhagen - where more than 190 countries are have now gathered to negotiate a climate change deal. Many are hoping a new dawn is breaking on the world of green politics, but dark clouds have already begun to gather.

The impact of what is now known as 'emailgate' is yet to be seen, a deal to suit both developed and developing countries remains a challenge, and headlines have been forecasting a gloomy end to the fortnight's talks with not very much agreed.

But every cloud has a silver lining as shown in last week's Panorama: Can Tesco Save the World? Away from the usual doom that engulfs most 'environment' stories, reporter Tom Heap had found a whole host of people who are going green and striking gold. Away from the politicking, it seems business is doing it for itself.

In the early days, researching the background to Can Tesco Save the World?, I was despatched to listen to key voices in the City of London talk up their green credentials. Cue sceptical laughter. Hosted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, with Aviva and Chevreux amongst others speaking, I was prepared for a lot of green spin that would make the promise of a climate-friendly financial sector a whitewash.

But the green spiel soon had me sold on the notion that business really is looking to a green future. And let's not get carried away. This is not some great show of altruism but rather a decision that makes good business sense.

The Carbon Disclosure Project was the reason for the gathering. It collates data and rates companies on their greenhouse gas emissions and climate change strategies. Launching in the UK, the CDP was naming - but not shaming - FTSE 350 companies. It resisted shaming because work has been done by business to get ahead of the green agenda with calls on the day for the CDP to become mandatory rather than remain voluntary as it is now.

But why? This greening up runs counter to any former understanding of business so often portrayed as the monster polluter concerned only with profit and whose mantra of growth only saw a profit threat in the prospect of reining back carbon emissions.

But rather than focusing on what we can't do, businesses have started to take an innovative approach by seeing a green future as an opportunity for creativity, job creation and, yes, more growth. At the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, the business case for a bold deal on climate change is being made in a document signed by more than 800 businesses around the world. Craig Bennett from the Copenhagen Communiqué explained to Panorama the five reasons why business is going green:

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Of course questions remain. Can growth, even if it is green, chime with the call for sustainability that we've been hearing from campaigners for years? Can we trust business which invests with one hand in green technology yet takes with the other by continuing to invest in dirty industries?

The answers should lie in Copenhagen. The policy framework for the low carbon economy is not for business to decide. If this is the future, then business needs to know from politicians how the land lies, and so do we, its future consumers and employees.


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