Chris Goodall, the Christian author of How to Live a Low-Carbon Life, has argued that it is financial institutions and Britain's highest earners that must take prime responsibility for challenging the effects of global warming.
He made his comments at the most recent JustShare debate at St Mary-le-Bow church in the City of London - 'Fools Gold: can Financial Services Undo Climate Change?'
He pointed to research suggesting those in the top 20 per cent of Britain's income bracket use five times more carbon than the poorest 20 per cent, he said the onus for change "is most certainly on the world's richest consumers".
On average, each British individual currently has carbon emissions of 12.5 tonnes per year, a figure Mr Goodall said individuals must reduce to between 1 and 0.5 tonnes per year. But he also criticised the Government for putting too much responsibility on individual efforts, and not enough on providing longer-term solutions to the problem of climate change.
"Market forces are still focused on short term profits," he argued, "and Government intervention is needed to shift this focus onto providing real, lasting solutions to climate change.
"Price mechanisms such as carbon tax don't go anywhere near far enough. They are insufficient to curb consumption or provide incentives for innovation in low-carbon technologies."
The British Government could do far more to change the situation he said, questioning its apparent reluctance to do so.
"For instance, sufficient tidal power can be generated in 24 hours in just one bay off the coast of Scotland to power the whole of London, yet government and private investors seem not to be interested in financing the infrastructure," he said.
He highlighted Denmark, which produces 25 per cent of its energy from wind power due to strong state funding and at a cheaper cost than the UK's current energy sources.
"Unless the UK's antipathy to state intervention, and its entrepreneurs' disinterest in developing low-carbon technologies and individuals' lack of moral responsibility changes fast, the future looks bleak," he said.
Joining Chris Goodall in the debate was Alexis Krajeski, Associate Director of F&C Management Ltd. She backed his calls for the financial industry to take more notice of climate change and invest more heavily in low-carbon technologies.
"Not to do so would be short-sighted, given that climate chaos could ultimately cause economic slow-down," she said.
"Investment and insurance products in particular are vital in preventing and limiting the impact of droughts, flooding and other climate-related disasters. Given that the financial services sector possesses the analytical tools to measure climate-related risk, it is in a position to encourage more environmentally-friendly behaviour by the companies it invests in.
"Moreover, capital investment will be vital for driving the development of lower carbon technologies for a more sustainable future."
She also called for Government action, highlighting the need for a strong policy and regulatory framework that would enable the industry to do its part in reducing climate chaos.
JustShare is a coalition of churches and other development agencies seeking to engage with the City of London on issues of global and economic injustice. JustShare holds regular debates, training seminars and other events to promote justice for the poorest in the world and a just share of the world's resources for all.
Britain's top earners are worst climate offenders, says Christian author
Published 10 April 2008