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Business Leaders Are Concerned About Climate Change, Just Not in North America

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Posted on Apr 22, 2014

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According to a flash poll by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a minority of North American business leaders agree that climate change is a problem requiring urgent action, trailing all other continents polled.

Just 39 percent agreed with the statement “the effects of climate change call for urgent and immediate action by leaders in government, business and civil society.” Compare that to 67 percent of African business leaders, who led the poll in common sense.

Americans have plenty of reason to believe in global weirding. This winter alone, the west of the United States suffered devastating drought and absurdly high temperatures while the east contended with an interminable blizzard. Other natural disasters, including especially intense hurricanes, have had their way with the continent.

As The Economist points out, business people have selfish reasons to consider and address climate change:

Companies will almost certainly be affected by climate change in one way or another. The risks involved include the breakdown of infrastructure networks, food systems and water ecosystems, for example. (Conversely, climate change could also offer new opportunities for certain types of firm, for instance those involved in water management or designing resilient buildings.)

Emerging economies are particularly vulnerable to climate change, a point highlighted in the IPCC report. This may explain why, in our survey, emerging-market business leaders (from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America) are far more insistent on action to combat climate change than their peers in Europe and North America. The degree of divergence between rich and developing-world attitudes is striking, and suggests a significant degree of scepticism remains among developed-world businesses that climate change is a priority global issue.

The problems of global warming are not limited to the developing world. California has a $45 billion agriculture industry that depends on diverting increasingly limited water supplies to the increasingly arid state.

New York City, the center of American finance, could find itself submerged if sea levels rise too high.

Despite these obvious and upsetting trends, most business leaders polled by the Economist Intelligence Unit disagree that climate change requires urgent action. Interestingly, a majority in the Middle East, a place that has benefited mightily from the carbon economy, recognize the need for urgency.

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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