Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Summary: Opening Ceremony, CI World Congress 2011

A summary of the speeches made at this morning's Opening Ceremony to Consumers International World Congress 2011. By Robin Simpson.
HKCC Chairman Anthony Cheung opened proceedings asserting the greater than ever need for a consumer movement as in the light of “the explosion of consumer issues”. Current crises were both economic, such as the financial crisis and its linked policies such as quantitative easing, and environmental such as the current radiation crisis in the region. HKCC was proud to have contributed since the last World Congress in HK 20 years ago and he welcomed the new legislative package on competition and trade descriptions, and the continued support of the SAR. He welcomed the presence of the largest ever delegation from mainland China, over 200, at a World Congress, referring to China as both the largest factory and the largest consumer market in the world in the fastest growing economic region. In all, the Congress welcomed over 700 delegates from over 60 jurisdictions.

Chief Executive Hon Donald Tsang of HK SAR asserted HK’s commitment to the free flow of information, and the role of NGOs and the free media. HK as a major economic and tourist hub received 36 million visitors per year far greater than its population of seven million. It was now the world’s top location for luxury brands, underpinned by advanced consumer protection legislation. HK participated fully in supra-national ‘framework’ organisations such as APEC, WTO.

Samuel Ochieng, president of Consumers International, drew the attention of Congress to CI’s recent successes putting CP in financial services at the heart of the G20 agenda, strengthening the WHO’s work on marketing of junk food to children and  successfully contributing to the recent completion of the ISO standard on corporate social responsibility. COs needed to adapt to the new digital world in which Twitter had as many adherent as the population of Brazil, and Facebook as many as the US. Mr Ochieng's full speech is available here.

Connie Hedegaard, EU Commisioner for Climate Action

Keynote address: Empowering consumers in the green economy

Climate change has arrived: The Commissioner delivered a rousing call to action by consumers on climate change.  Governments could set targets and standards but only consumers had the “power of the purse” to implement climate policies at purchasing level. Two startling facts to start: 2010 was the hottest year on record, and also the year with the most precipitation.

The world’s population was approaching 9 billion within her children’s lifetime while it was below 2 billion when her grandmother was born. These trends had consequences for the world’s resources, for example: each day we cut and burn 24,000 football pitches of forest, and today’s fishing fleet accounted for seven times the catch of the global fleet in 1950. Extreme weather events were already happening, as witnessed recently in Pakistan, Russia, Australia. Climate scientists were forecasting a 4 degree rise in temperature by the end of the century.

Rising demand: There would be one billion new members of the ‘middle class’ by 2050 and on current trends, we would need 2.5 ‘new planets’ by 2050 in resource terms. The terms ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ no longer applied to countries but to populations within countries. Nearly half the world’s middle class consumers were now in developing countries with 240 million in China and 120 million in India. This year we are paying 40% more for food than we did last year.

Household consumption has a huge impact, 70% of GHG emissions come from households, 40% from buildings alone in the EU. Meat needs 10 times more energy than locally sourced vegetables, and EU households throw away 25% of their food purchases.  The average plastic bag is used for only five minutes but takes 500 years to decompose.

Green growth model: We need to embrace the green growth model, major reductions in emissions were cost effective so that even climate change sceptics should be able to accept the economic case for them. “There is no cheaper energy than the energy we don’t use”. Environmental industries were creating jobs, for example, investment in renewables was creating 3-5 times more jobs per dollar than fossil fuels. The EU now had 3-4 million jobs in ‘environmental industries,  China is now the world’s top producer of solar panels and accounts for 40% of the global total of investment in clean technology.

We need to decouple rising emissions from economic growth. In the EU in recent years, emissions have fallen while growth has taken place. Regulation plays a part: in the EU new car emissions have fallen 25% since 2006 following new regulations. It is hard for consumers to not be confused by the plethora of labelling, but accurate labelling can help. Class A fridge/freezer labels introduced in 1995 only covered two per cent of output then, but this has risen to over 90% now. Consumers who bought a grade A fridge in 1995 would have saved over 1,000 euros by now. Environmental labelling and information needs to smarten up to new media allowing for search facilities online, smart metering can help consumers  monitor their own consumption.

The final hurdle is that we must persuade consumers to systematically buy sustainably,  that it is “cool to use less”. “We are threatening the planet with our patterns of consumption”   “Business as usual is no longer an option”.   

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