Kofi Annan urges companies to be more sustainable

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said technological advances mean businesses no longer need to choose between economic growth and climate stability.
Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said technological advances mean businesses no longer need to choose between economic growth and climate stability.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Technological advances mean businesses no longer need to choose between economic growth and climate stability, said former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

Mr Annan told an event here: "There is no such trade-off, we can have both... What is required is a will."

He noted that significant progress has already been made in renewable energy. In the next five to 10 years the world would likely develop alternative sources of energy beyond nuclear power, that would reduce mankind's reliance on fossil fuels.

Mr Annan cited Germany, which is moving away from nuclear energy, and today derives 25 per cent of its power needs from renewable resources.

He called upon businesses to look beyond short-term economic growth and shareholder interest, and adopt sustainable practices. "We must always remember that business cannot succeed in a society that fails."

Private businesses should share best practices in sustainable development with one another, and small firms should pressure bigger ones to produce environmentally-friendly products.

Many companies have already started to adopt more sustainable practices, noted Mr Annan, who was speaking at Thursday's Midas Touch Asia 2015, an annual event that attracts policymakers, business leaders and entrepreneurs.

Mr Annan pointed to a mining company in Australia, previously relying on coal, that has now turned to using solar energy for its operations.

Six of Europe's largest oil and gas companies have called on governments to introduce global carbon pricing systems, he noted, adding that Singapore has also managed to reclaim potable water from used water.

He encouraged companies in Singapore to build partnerships, especially in Africa, that can create jobs and contribute to sustainable growth. He also urged businesses to press their governments to work towards an agreement at the upcoming Paris climate change conference in November, to limit global temperature to two deg C above the pre-industrial level.

In the question-and-answer session, Mr Annan was asked about whether a legal settlement to the South China Sea dispute was feasible, given power and economic assymetries between the claimant states.

He said: "It is, even in the interest of the powerful and rich, that rule of law applies in the long-term.

When a country decides to ignore the rule of law... they're setting a precedent... In fact, it goes against their direct interest or interest of their allies.

"So I will say, as difficult as it is, we should press for the rule of law and respect for that regime".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline 'Kofi Annan urges companies to be more sustainable'. Print Edition | Subscribe