Business leaders from around the world have issued a blunt warning to the world's governments - act now on climate change or jeopardise sustained economic development.
Business leaders of more than 500 companies from around the world have published a document titled The Copenhagen Communiqué calling on world leaders to agree to "an ambitious, robust and equitable global deal on climate change that responds credibly to the scale and urgency of the crisis facing the world today". They warn that business will suffer seriously if a credible deal is not reached at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December.
A copy of The Copenhagen Communiqué was handed to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and distributed to more than 100 heads of state at the recent UN Summit on Climate Change in New York.
The communiqué has already secured the support of companies based in more than 50 countries - including Australia, the US, EU, Canada, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - ranging from the world's largest companies and best-known brands to SMEs and across a variety of business sectors.
In just two pages, the communiqué sets out the business case for a strong and effective UN climate framework and offers a progressive global consensus on the shape of an agreement. It is an initiative of The Prince of Wales' Corporate Leaders' Group on Climate Change which is run by The University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership.
"These are difficult and challenging times for the international business community, and a poor outcome from the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen will only make them more so, by creating uncertainty and undermining confidence," the business leaders stated in the communiqué.
They warned that "economic development will not be sustained in the longer term unless the climate is stabilised" and said it was "critical we exit this recession in a way that lays the foundation for low carbon growth and avoids locking us into a high-carbon future".
The companies called for emission reduction targets to be guided by science and offered support for the emerging consensus to limit global average temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels.
In turn, they recognised that this would require global emissions to peak and begin to decline rapidly within the next decade and reduce by 50 to 85 per cent by 2050.
The business leaders urged developed countries to take on "immediate and deep emission reduction commitments" and "demonstrate that low carbon growth is both achievable and desirable" and provide the necessary financial and technological assistance to developing countries.
They called on developing countries to draw up their own emission reduction plans, and on advanced developing countries to adopt economy-wide commitments by 2020. The companies, which include Australian-based firms such as IAG, Lend Lease, Linfox, Macquarie Group, National Australia Bank, Telstra, Westpac and Woolworths, argued for an immediate interim emergency package to provide substantial funding to tropical forest nations to help them halt deforestation, noting that continued destruction of rainforests accounts for as much as a fifth of annual greenhouse gas emissions.
"If it is possible for such a variety of companies to agree on the basic shape of an ambitious, robust and equitable global deal on climate change - surely it should now be possible for the world's governments to do the same," said the co-director of The Prince of Wales' Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, Craig Bennett.
Of course, the issue of financing for climate change mitigation and adaptation more generally is one of the most contentious issues in climate change negotiations, with a variety of estimates suggesting that between $US100 to $US200 billion ($114 to $228 billion) will be needed annually by 2030 to help developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to the climate change already being experienced.
However, in the communiqué business leaders argued that "the costs of transition are manageable, even in the current economic climate".
The companies finished by stating: "The more ambitious the framework, the more business will deliver. Delay is not an option."
That statement was arguably most eloquently expanded on by president and founder of the Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson, who said: "Creating a low-carbon economy requires strong leadership from business and political leaders with commitment for citizens around the world. As a business leader, I can only achieve my ambition if my actions are underpinned by the foundation of political intent and robust law. The bolder the political ambition, the bolder I can be. This double act will filter down to citizens and encourage citizens to make their important contribution. I - together with those other six billion citizens - have high expectations that our leaders have the courage to make the decisions only they can make."