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Climate cheerleaders: citizens, companies, markets

About the author
Alex MacGillivray is head of the responsible competitiveness programme at AccountAbility.

Once they decide to do something, the Chinese go for it with gusto. Pop impresario Wang Xiaojing announced his plan to set up an all-female band in 2001. Over 4,000 candidates from the country's leading musical academies applied to become a member. His creation - the 12 Girls Band - is a living embodiment of China's national strategy of "harmonious growth". It is twice as big as any other all-female band, and has already put out a dozen albums.

China was slow to climb on board the all-female bandwagon. The United States and Britain pioneered the form decades ago, with groups like the Go-Gos, Bangles and Bananarama. Other countries followed suit: from Japan's Princess Princess and Turkey's Volvox to Brazil's Scatha and Finland's TikTak. But in most countries, all-female bands seldom get bigger than five or six members. Even then, group dynamics often lead to an untimely bust-up.

The 12 Girls Band was on triumphant form at the Oriental Pearl on Saturday 7 July 2007. Its fusion of Chinese folk and western classics was a highlight of the Shanghai leg of Live Earth, even upstaging the ever-popular Sarah Brightman. The turnout was modest: just 3,000 fans from a city of 16 million. But the audience had to brave torrential rain and forked lightening to show their support for climate action. Hundreds of curious construction workers got glimpses of the gig from the encircling skyscrapers.

Live Earth concerts also took place in Sydney, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Hamburg, London, New Jersey and Rio - and there were up to 10,000 local events in 129 countries. Some 10 million people logged on to the websites. "We can start helping", said Japanese singer Ayaka, "by doing something small." Joss Stone asked us to plant a tree: "dig a hole; it only takes five minutes".

The passionate performances from these and other artists - Shakira, Alicia Keys and Madonna among them - were designed to project the Live Earth message across a powerful multimedia move people to combat the climate crisis". The complexity involved in the pursuit of this objective is highlighted by two important points emerging from recent research by the London think-tank, AccountAbility. Alex MacGillivray is head of the responsible competitiveness programme at AccountAbility.

His A Brief History of Globalization is published by Robinson (February 2006).

He is co-editor of The State of Responsible Competitiveness 2007, available for free download from the AccountAbility website

Also by Alex MacGillivray in openDemocracy:

"The trade gangs of Hong Kong" (22 December 2005)

"The Brazilian hat-trick" (14 March 2006)

"Wonderful shrinking world" (19 April 2006)

First, women are more concerned about global warming than men. Second, a majority of consumers - in Britain and the US alike - say they are willing to make personal sacrifices to prevent global warming, but only 10% trust the guidance they receive from business, government - or jet-setting celebrities - on this issue. Live Earth exhorted citizens to "answer the call" and make a commitment by buying low-energy light bulbs, switching off lights and using more public transport. But when the BBC website asked during Live Earth "can people can make a difference?", the "yes" and "no" votes from nearly 40,000 people were very close.

Thus, citizens will clearly take a lot of convincing that "people power" should lead on a problem as massive and global as climate change. Live Earth organisers Al Gore and Kevin Wall know this well, and are supporting groups like SOS and the Alliance for Climate Protection to build on the momentum of 07.07.07.

The post-summit happening

There was no Live Earth concert in Switzerland, despite the fact that the Swiss lead the world in concern about climate change. Over a third of the Swiss rate climate change their biggest or second biggest concern, according to a June 2007 global survey by AC Nielsen. In Turkey, where Live Earth had to be cancelled for lack of interest, the figure is just one in six.

So a Live Earth concert on Lake Geneva would have made lots of sense. The symbolism would have appealed to rock fans, marking the thirty-fifth anniversary of Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water. A corny, or canny, promoter might even have worked on a "fire in the sky" motif for the gig.

Instead, the sensible city of Geneva hosted a distinctly less glamorous summit on 5-6 July 2007 for a thousand business executives, policymakers and consultants. Besuited attendees from around the world gathered for the carbon-neutral event in support of the United Nations Global Compact. The compact, a set of ten principles for responsible business behaviour, was devised by Kofi Annan and has now been embraced by his successor as UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon. Thousands of companies from 116 countries have so far signed up.

Also on Live Earth in openDemocracy:

Oliver Tickell, "Live Earth's limits" (6 July 2007)
What was unmissable at the summit was the strong Chinese presence, with a delegation that comprised more than 100 people from government, business and civil society. They were not there as cautious observers, as at some previous responsible business events. They were vociferous in every session and declaration. China Ocean Shipping Group (Cosco) even distributed a nifty fridge magnet proclaiming its commitment to sustainability. All this reflected the fact that more Chinese companies are actively engaged in the compact process than US or British ones.

Ordinary citizens may be unsure that they can or should lead by example, says AC Nielsen, but people across the world are clear on the responsibility of governments in restricting business emissions, encouraging research into low-emissions technologies and providing financial incentives for consumers.

That is why one of the most exciting developments at the Geneva gig was "Caring for Climate" a business leadership platform signed by 150 companies - among them are a good number of household names, like Coca-Cola, Philips, Ikea and Unilever. There are even a few brave oil companies and airlines. Caring for Climate firms commit themselves to taking practical action on energy efficiency, setting targets and public reporting. They also undertake to work collaboratively in finding solutions and reducing climate risks.

Crucially, these businesses also call on governments for the "urgent creation, in close consultation with the business community and civil society, of comprehensive, long-term and effective legislative and fiscal frameworks designed to make markets work for the climate." They demand, in particular, "policies and mechanisms intended to create a stable price for carbon". Notable among the signatories are "world is flat" firms such as China's Haier and India's Infosys. So this amounts to the loudest and most credible business platform yet for a global carbon-trading scheme.

Competing, but responsibly

There was a little music at the Geneva summit. Amidst the almost endless array of before, during and after dinner speeches, delegates were treated to a set from United in Music, the Amsterdam-based percussion trio. Brazilian delegates were right to complain that a samba school from Rio would have done a funkier job, but founder Geert Boogaard's goal, to build an inclusive orchestra for the United Nations, is admirable.

AccountAbility is an international non-profit, membership organisation established in 1995 to promote accountability innovations that advance responsible-business practices, and the broader accountability of civil-society and public organisations

The State of Responsible Competitiveness 2007
report is published by AccountAbility in association with the leading Brazilian business school Fundação Dom Cabral.

The report is supported by Microsoft, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Agrisal and the business-responsibility network in El Salvador, Fundemas

The report was launched at the United Nations Global Compact summit in Geneva on 5-6 July 2007

Al Gore - the man most admired as a climate leader worldwide - was the other common strand between the two gigs. Generation, the investment management company he chairs, signed up to Caring for Climate. Gore also wrote the foreword for The State of Responsible Competitiveness, a major assessment of progress towards sustainable global markets launched at the summit. The report, by AccountAbility, makes a strong case for market-based solutions to climate change and other linked global challenges like corruption, gender inequality and bad work conditions.

According to leading experts like Nicholas Stern, Laura Tyson and Kumi Naidoo, responsible business practices, combined with sound public policy and a supportive civil society, can solve major global problems - and generate new markets worth hundreds of billions of dollars into the bargain.

The numbers are pretty staggering. The costs of accidents and ill health amount to E55 billion a year in Europe alone. Gender inequality in Asia causes losses of at least $60 billion. Corruption in Latin America lowers economic output by 10%. On the positive side, Goldman Sachs estimates that low-carbon energy will attract investments of as much as $500 billion in future.

So despite all the blogging over the last few days, the Live Earthers v Global Leaders debate may be a sterile one. Citizens, exhorted by carbon-neutral pop stars, can make personal sacrifices. Companies, inspired by inspirational CEOs, can undertake smart philanthropy. But both groups should be clearly focused on a major collaborative task: making global markets more responsible.

Easier said than done? What is striking is how well some countries are doing in the face of globalisation's relentless race to the bottom. There is a strong positive correlation between responsible business practices and national success, whether measured by competitiveness indices or by the acid test of income per capita.

Over 100 countries have been mapped to show how well they are catering to responsible markets. The Responsible Competitiveness Index, devised by AccountAbility and Brazilian business school Fundação Dom Cabral, was unveiled in Geneva at a breakfast roundtable attended by an apprehensive crowd of ministers and ambassadors from dozens of countries.

Sten Tolgfors, Sweden's trade minister, was soon in celebratory mood - Sweden had fought off its Nordic neighbours to top the index as the world's most responsibly competitive nation. The British delegation was anxious to move on from the mixed messages on corporate responsibility during the Tony Blair / Gordon Brown era. AccountAbility CEO Simon Zadek and Paul Hohnen from Chatham House stressed the roles of "soft power" and strategic collaboration between business, consumers, workers and policymakers in capturing responsible markets.

Maxwell Mkwezalamba, economic-affairs commissioner for the African Union, noted the strong performance of South Africa compared to its "Brics" rivals (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Why was Indonesia not attracting as much foreign investment as Vietnam, asked the International Herald Tribune. Would the recent spate of more stringent labour and environmental regulations bring a rapid improvement in China's responsibility brand? "A harmonious society", warned Li Baodong, Chinese ambassador to the UN in Geneva, "requires that companies shoulder their social responsibilities".

I came away from Geneva and Live Earth humming one new tune. The big historic carbon-emitters of northern Europe and north America shouldn't assume they will lead the carbon-trading process called demanded by Caring for Climate and pop fans alike. Just as 12 Girl Band eclipsed Sarah Brightman during Live Earth, China - already the world's biggest carbon-emitter - may well be the best location for the coming global carbon market.

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