Reuters, Janaury 22, 2009
By Thin Lei Win
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Business should use the global downturn to forge ahead with green technologies that will save hard pressed firms money as well as the planet, a U.N. environment agency said on Thursday.
Proven and commercially available technologies can cut buildings' energy use by 30 percent without a significant increase in investment cost, said Angela Cropper, deputy executive director of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP).
"Now is the time to pick up the pace in our efforts to address both climate change and economic development," she told a climate change business forum in Bangkok.
A 2008 UNEP report found venture capital and private equity investment in sustainable energy rose 34 percent in the second quarter of 2008 from the same period in 2007.
Although the report was released last July before the credit crisis really bit, some executives backed Cropper's call for more green innovations in the business world.
Teresa Au, head of HSBC's corporate sustainability in the region, said the bank's climate sustainability products, such as financing for green equipment, had done very well in the second half of 2008 despite the credit crunch.
Cropper said micro-finance could also help developing countries pursue environmentally friendly policies. In Bangladesh, small loans have allowed female entrepreneurs to install solar panels and bring electricity to 100,000 homes.
"Adaptation is not only big ticket items," Cropper said. "It can also be done and it has to be done in household and community levels."
With 11 months to go before climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, where a successor to the Kyoto Protocol may be hammered out, speakers at the Bangkok forum were optimistic about the year ahead.
They pointed to South Korea's $38 billion plan to invest in green projects, and President Barack Obama's ambitious plan to double the output of renewable energy in the United States within three years.
Nevertheless, many embattled Asian firms are looking to cut their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, some of which benefit environmental causes, said Richard Welford, chairman of CSR Asia, a Hong Kong-based consultancy on sustainable business practices.
Environmentalist Sunita Narain opposed government bailouts for troubled car companies, who have received billions of dollars from the U.S. taxpayer.
"If you are really serious about green business, give bailouts perhaps to bus companies or putting money into rail works instead of roadworks," she said.
(Editing by Darren Schuettler and Jon Boyle)