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  • Robert Hinkley

COP 29: A New Way Forward



9 July 2024


Let’s face it, 28 Conferences of the Parties (COPs) have failed.  At the last one they talked more about living with climate change than preventing it. For COP 29 to avoid the same fate, a new strategy is needed. 


Delegates agreeing again to return home (this time from Azerbaijan) and pass laws which will keep temperatures below a certain level will not be successful.  More specific direction is needed. 


It must be simple. It must be uniform—the countries which emit the most greenhouse gases (GHGs) must all take the same step to protect the environment.  Finally, it must be non-partisan and capable of gaining overwhelming political support.  All this is possible.


It's time to recognize that GHG emissions continue to build up in the atmosphere because big corporations won’t voluntarily agree to stop emitting, and those same companies are able to keep government from passing laws to make them.  There is a simple reason for both. 


The corporate law everywhere tells company directors they must act in the best interests of their company in all circumstances.  This applies even when doing so results in severe damage to the environment. 


In other words, the people the law puts in charge of running big companies have no duty to protect the environment—even from severe harm.  Their duty to act in their company’s best interests dissuades them from converting to alternative energy sources because it would force them to write-off the value of the facilities they currently use.  Consequently, they continue to emit GHGs by, among other things, running coal fired electricity generating stations and marketing fossil fuel burning motor vehicles. 


Success eluded the first 28 COPs for a simple reason, the limited direction it provided asked governments to go home and negotiate a solution with its largest emitters of GHGs.  Those emitters were then able to use their political clout and misinformation to turn aside reforms which would reduce emissions.  Debates turned into delays.  Nothing meaningful was accomplished.


COP 29 has to say it out loud, “This must stop. There’s no longer any place in the world for companies that emit huge quantities of GHGs or otherwise inflict severe damage on the environment.” 


To make it stick, the duty of corporate directors must be changed everywhere.  Directors must be given more than just the leeway to protect the environment. They must be required to stop their company whenever it (or its industry) is discovered inflicting severe harm.


Corporations are simply constructions of the law.  If there was no corporate law, there would be no corporations. Through the law, government gives life to corporations and determines what kind of citizens they will be.


Current law makes every company a potentially bad citizen—capable of destroying the public interest in the pursuit of its own self-interest.  Since modern corporation laws originated in the 19th century, much has changed.  Companies have become much bigger.  They now operate not just locally, but nationally and sometimes globally.  Moreover, technology has developed to make them potentially much more destructive. 


The day of reckoning has come.  Knowing what we know now, there is no valid reason for allowing a few big companies to continue destroying the environment. The corporate law needs to be fixed to make it stop.  The direction the law gives corporate directors needs to be modified.


Yes, directors should continue to act in the best interests of their company.  This is necessary for lenders and shareholders to be willing to invest. But the duty to act in the company’s best interest can no longer be allowed to continue unbounded. 


There must be an exception when acting in the best interests of the company will result in severe damage to the environment.  Corporate directors can do both: make money and safeguard the environment from severe damage.


Political support for it should be non-partisan and overwhelming. No thinking human being wants global warming to get worse. No thinking human being can be opposed to the concept that government should not be responsible for creating institutions that severely damage the environment. 


The purpose of COP 29 should be to agree on this simple change. The United Nations, environmental activists, socially responsible investors, ESG departments at major corporations, B corporations, small businesses, major political parties (both progressive and conservative), organised religions, educational institutions, municipal leaders, and others should motivate their constituencies to get behind it. Governments everywhere should adopt it.

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Jul 05

Replace the 'should's with 'MUST'

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