Jerry Evans/Wikimedia Commons

Selfishness for All?

At this week's special UN summit, intended to spur action on climate change, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered a simple message: Beyond the long-term shared benefits of such action, countries and businesses would benefit in the short term. But, while self-interest is a useful tool, it cannot replace concerted policies.

AMSTERDAM – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has just hosted a special summit in New York intended to spur action on climate change. Ban’s message was simple: Beyond the long-term shared benefits of such action, countries and businesses would benefit in the short term. In other words, there are no losers in the fight to mitigate climate change and its consequences.

For some, the “win-win” character of climate action seems finally to be sinking in. At the UN summit, hundreds of political and business leaders from around the world outlined commitments that constitute practical steps toward enhancing their countries’ economic prospects, improving their citizens’ quality of life, and benefiting firms’ bottom lines.

Of course, today’s carbon-intensive businesses may see far more risk than opportunity in climate action. But this view not only is shortsighted from a financial point of view; it also neglects the impact of public opinion, which is already beginning to turn against obstinate companies.

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