Business must take the challenge of climate change seriously if the battle is to be won, environment secretary Hilary Benn told the CBI annual conference.

Welcoming the CBI's report earlier this week on tackling the problem, Benn said that the government was playing its part with legislation on energy, climate change and planning. He stressed that business had a key role to play in the UK pressing the debate on climate change forward on the world stage.

"If business does not take the challenge of climate change seriously we are not going to do it, we are not going to deal with the greatest threat we face."

The CBI report, drawn up by a taskforce of the chairmen and top executives of 18 leading companies and based on analysis by consultants McKinsey, concluded that Britain was likely to miss its 2020 target for cutting carbon emissions but could get back on track by 2030 if urgent action was taken.

The taskforce, headed by BT chairman Ben Verwaayen, concluded that the longer Britain delayed in taking the measures needed, the higher the ultimate cost would be. If Britain acted now it estimated the cost was likely to be £100 a year per household by 2030. The taskforce called for an alliance between business, government and consumers, with its members pledging that their own companies would develop the products and services needed to curb emissions.

Today Verwaayen told the conference said the report had ranked a series of targets and policies according to how effective they were in cutting emissions and how much they cost. The analysis showed that half actually saved money. Verwaayen said it was not simply a question of cost. "If we are first out of the blocks we will have a fantastic opportunity in a market that will become the most important in the world."

Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy said consumers were a vital part of the solution. "Imagine what a force for change consumers could be," he told the conference. But he warned people needed to be encouraged, not forced into taking action. "If people feel they are being bullied into going green they are likely to see red."


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