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Europe’s Climate Change Fighter

11/30/09

Ryan Brown—Chicago, Illinois

November 30, 2009

Last September Lars Josefsson came to the UN General Assembly in New York City with a petition signed by just under 250,000 people calling for action on climate change. This would not be particularly surprising if he were the head of Greenpeace, but he is actually the CEO of one of Europe’s biggest electric utilities headquartered in Sweden.

In the December issue of Fortune magazine on page 28 there is an article entitled, “A Deal on Climate Change? Not Exactly” by Peter Gumbel. It introduces the reader to Lars G. Josefsson, one of the foremost proponents for  global climate change policy in Europe.

Mr. Josefsson has done a considerable amount to advocate for climate change. Earlier this year he convinced 60 other CEOs of various utilities in Europe to commit to making their businesses carbon neutral by 2050—a 75% reduction in emissions. His advocacy has led him to recently he has been named a special advisor to the UN Secretary-General at COP-15 in Copenhagen.

But Josefsson is not optimistic that we will get much done there. He says that it is clear that we will not have a globally binding deal coming out of Copenhagen. Like many leaders in Europe, he sees the US a major holdout in climate policy but at the same time he sees that President Obama has his hands tied without bipartisan support in Congress. The article cites, “The best Josefsson is holding out for is a broadly shared commitment among participating countries to take action which the U.S. and the rest of the industrialized world signal their willingness to impose ambitious caps on carbon emissions, while emerging markets like China and India agree that it will no longer be business as usual.” But he acknowledges that even this broad non-binding goal has only a fifty-fifty chance of happening in Copenhagen.

Despite his pessimism about the prospects of the Copenhagen summit, it is clear that Mr. Josefsson has been one of the unsung heroes of climate change policy in recent years. The problem however is that he is exactly the type of advocate that the U.S. so desperately needs and lacks. Many companies here at home have taken action to limit their own carbon emission but there has been no leadership by top executives to push their peers and their government to do the same. Given the disproportionate amount of political power that corporations have in the United States, we need advocates like Mr. Josefsson pushing Congress to recognize that inaction is no longer acceptable.

It is clear that little can be done without the U.S in Copenhagen, but the U.S can do very little without Congress’ consent. Obama doesn’t want to make the same mistake as Clinton who signed the Kyoto treaty in 1997 but never saw it ratified in Congress. But Congress will never act so long as the energy companies aren’t on board. So we need leadership.

We here in America need an advocate like Mr. Josefsson now more than ever.

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