Mr. Ban told participants at the World Business Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen that “you and your colleagues have the ingenuity and vision to lead by example where others – including governments – are lagging behind.”
Governments are expected to wrap up negotiations on a successor pact to the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period for reducing greenhouse gas emissions ends in 2012, in the Danish capital in December.
“As business leaders, you are crucially placed to ensure that government negotiators seal a deal,” the Secretary-General said, urging their support to harness the political will needed to reach an ambitious new agreement later this year.
Although he acknowledges the difficulties in concluding the pact, he warned that “if we get it wrong, we face catastrophic damage to people, to the planet – and to the global marketplace.”
The UN will be issuing a so-called “Copenhagen Call” at the end of the three-day meeting on 26 May, Mr. Ban said, appealing to the private sector to use its influence to raise awareness of climate change.
“As business leaders, you must make it clear to your leaders that doing the right thing for the climate is also the smart thing for global competitiveness and long-term prosperity,” he said.
“We may never get a better opportunity. And if the world's scientists are right, we may not get a second chance.”
Mr. Ban also exhorted participants to mobilize their employees, partners and others to demand urgent action on the issue, as well as to continue finding private-sector methods to slash climate risks.
“Your customers and your shareholders will reward you,” the Secretary-General, who will be convening a high-level summit on climate change in September, said. “And your children will thank you one day.”
According to some estimates, rising greenhouse gas emissions could lead to a 5 per cent drop, or even more, in global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), compared to the prediction by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that it could cost as little as 0.1 per cent of global GDP annually until 2030 to reduce emissions. “And that does not factor in the multiple extra benefits to health and development,” he said.
Concluding negotiations on a new climate pact in December will be a boon to businesses, Mr. Ban, who arrived in Copenhagen from a two-day visit to Sri Lanka, stressed.
“We know that the right kind of deal will provide the regulatory certainty and long-term price signals that businesses are demanding,” he said. “We know that a deal can unleash investment, stimulate innovation and facilitate the global spread of low-carbon technologies.”
If the Copenhagen conference in December ends in failure, countries could turn inward in a misguided attempt to solve the climate problem on their own, the Secretary-General cautioned, pointing out that protectionist barriers could result.
He countered the argument that action on climate change should be put on hold during a global recession, emphasizing that while a global bail-out may seem costly now, “it will pale next to the enormous human and economic costs of delaying action on climate change.”