Former Archbishop of Canterbury says he has been surprised by recent interest from businesses on tackling climate change but warns there is still a lack of urgency
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has cautiously praised businesses for their increased progress and collaboration on measures to tackle environmental issues such as climate change.
“I’m struck again […] by the way in which a rather surprising number of business concerns are waking up, even if only for pragmatic reasons, to the need to rethink some of their environmental [plans],” he said at an event on Monday hosted by the ESRC Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP).
“I’m chair of the trustees of Christian Aid and we’ve found that in recent years we’ve been able to have far more constructive conversations on some of these issues with businesses than we’d ever have had 15 or 20 years ago,” Williams said. “I think there are potential conversation partners in the business world surprisingly, even if it’s only because of an awareness that for example fossil fuels are going to be toxic assets in a decade – they’re already showing signs.”
However Williams added that he is not “starry eyed” enough to think the biggest firms are going to be converted overnight.
Williams, who served as Archbishop from 2002 to 2012 and is now Master of Magdalene College in Cambridge, was speaking at the London launch of a new Club of Rome book Reinventing Prosperity, which aims to offer realistic policy solutions to help industrialised countries tackle inequality, unemployment and climate change.
But while Williams praised the rise in corporate interest on climate change, he stressed there still lacks the necessary sense of urgency to confront the challenge as quickly and effectively as possible. “I don’t feel by any means wholly negative about where conversations are happening,” he said. “What I worry is not so much ill will or resistance, it’s lack of a sense of urgency. We haven’t got much time to have these conversations.”
Williams also criticised the popular press for what he called a “mysterious assumption that climate change is left wing”, which he said suggests to him “that the laws of nature are left wing”.
“If it’s once associated with one particular political identity, then you know that a disproportionately conservative press will treat it as if it were that kind of leftist issue,” he said. “I’m baffled by that, because 100 years ago or so many of the voices that were beginning already to say sensible things about sustainability and environment came from far more conservative quarters, and unfortunately some of the most aggressive, environmentally poisonous approaches were developed by certain socialist states. So it’s not a left-right issue.”