EPCA '09: Environment advocates call for radical change in chems

05 October 2009 11:42  [Source: ICIS news]

By Stephen Burns

BERLIN (ICIS news)--The chemical industry does not have as much time as it thinks to adapt to sustainable practices, and it should prepare for radical change in its approach to climate change, two leading environmental advocates said on Monday.

The chemical industry was "always dragging its feet", such as with its reluctant engagement with the European safety standards Reach, said Gerd Leipold, executive director of environmental advocacy group Greenpeace.

He accused the chemical industry of "underhand lobbyism" in its efforts to thwart tighter regulation, saying its standard response to change was: "Let's wait, it's too much, it's too early, it's too expensive."

Leipold was speaking in a panel discussion at the 43rd European Petrochemical Association meeting.

His views were in line with fellow panellist Joschka Fischer, a leader of the Greens party in Germany's parliament and the country's foreign minister from 1998 to 2005.

Fischer cited the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the calamity in the world financial system in 2008 as examples of how quickly crises and the need for quick solutions can arise.

He specifically disagreed with ExxonMobil Chemical's president Stephen Pryor, who had earlier told the conference that history suggests the transition to renewable fuels and bio-based feedstocks would take decades.

"We must be much more ambitious," Fischer said.

He also disputed the view of another panellist, Frank Rinderknecht of auto consultancy Rinspeed, that plug-in electric cars would not reach a market share of 20% within 20 years.

"I think the electric car will come sooner than many of us think today," Fischer said.

Leipold and Fischer both urged progress in the UN's upcoming Copenhagen conference on climate change. Many observers expect little of significance to be achieved in the talks, if not a total collapse of global cooperation.

Leipold said he would not be surprised if US chemical companies managed to sink proposed legislation on emissions in that country, saying that the absence of a US carbon trading system would make it difficult to win agreement among the parties to the Copenhagen talks.

The Greenpeace leader called on chemical companies to engage "non-expert" contributors to their planning, saying that Germany's growth in renewable electricity would not have happened if the power companies had been left to decide the issues.

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By: Stephen Burns
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