Climate Change and Corporate Social Responsibility

Seminar Paper, 2019

16 Pages


Table of contents

1 The Climate Change and Sustainable Development Goals – defining the Problem

2 Critical Assessment of CSR

3 Critical Assessment of alternative Models

4 Summary

5 List of References

1 The Climate Change and Sustainable Development Goals – defining the Problem

Since the time our planet earth exists, there has been global warming – the natural climate process. However, now there are more than 7 billion people living on that planet, most of whom with consumption habits far beyond the natural resources of the earth. This, of course, does not come without consequences. The caused temperature increase of the last decades had brought along multiple visible impacts on the environment. But how bad is the situation really?

“Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate” (IPCC, 2018: 6)

Human actions such as the incineration of fossil fuels, the deforestation of forests and agriculture are the leading cause for global warming. There has never been as much temperature increase as in the last 35 years, with the hottest recorded year so far in 2016 (NASA, 2017). With increasing air temperature, also the oceans around the globe are warming up through the absorption of heat. The average warming trend of the world’s oceans has been documented with approximately 0.13°C, descending in deeper waters, per decade (NOAA, 2019). This might seem very little, but already slightly rising water temperatures have far-reaching consequences. Throughout the past decades there has been a severe reduction of snow mass in the polar caps, shrinking arctic sea ice as well as melting glaciers worldwide. This becomes apparent, for example, through a currently three times higher percentage of ice level decline in the Antarctica (NASA JPL, 2018), or the loss of 85% of the snow cover on the top of Kilimanjaro (Thompson et. al, 2009). As a further consequence of continuously melting ice and oceanwater that is expanding with higher temperature, the world’s sea-level raises. In fact, since the last century there has been an increase of approximately 20.3cm, whereupon the increase rate has even doubled in the last 20 years (Nerem et. al, 2017). The current one percent increase in temperature does not only have environmental impacts, but also affects biodiversity. According to the ‘Red List of threatened Species’ about 30% of the global flora and fauna are threatened with extinction, whereas approximately 8% is due to climate change (IUCN, 2019). Alongside the temperature change itself, also more frequent extreme weather conditions and the increased spread of pathogenic germs is threatening the natural habitats and health of biodiversity. Just to name a few scenarios, the climate change endangers elephants due to water scarcity, whales due to acidification of oceans, polar bears due to shrinking ice habitats, as well as it causes coral bleaching due to high water temperature. Moreover, the increased occurrence of natural catastrophes and the rising sea-level that causes coastal areas to flood, forcing many people to leave their homes. Correspondingly in 2017, 18.8 million people from 135 nations have become environmental refugees (iDMC, 2018). As one can see, an increase of only one degree Celsius has already brought far-ranging consequences for humans, animals and environment.

According to IPCC (2014), until the year 2100 the global average temperature is expected to increase between 0.3°C and 4.8°C, depending on different prognosis-models.

In order to set limits to the climate change, one must first understand the main culprits for it. In general, global warming is a natural process caused by the greenhouse effect that traps the sun’s heat and thus enables all life on earth. However, with the colonization of people, and especially the Industrial Revolution since the mid-20th century, this greenhouse effect got enhanced by human activities and the temperature is therefore increasing faster than the world can endure. Gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect occur naturally but have increased strongly through humans in the past decades. The main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases.

According to the greenhouse gas emissions statistics of the European Environment Agency (2015), 78% of the greenhouse gas emissions of all 28 member states of the EU in 2015 are attributable to all sectors regarding energy. On the second position with 10.1% are greenhouse gas emissions due to agriculture. Industrial processes and product use account for 8.7% of the emissions and the share of the waste industry amounts to 3.7%. The European Union is the third largest greenhouse gas emitter after China and the United States, followed by India and Brazil. (EEA, 2015)

When one looks at the statistics, it can clearly be seen that the main cause for the global temperature increase is the unsustainable energy production. The main source of energy, is obtained through the incineration of coal, petroleum oil and gas. As a result, these combustions generate fuel, electricity and heat around the world. During the process of burning fossil fuels, air pollutants that are detrimental to human health, species and environment are released. (Siegel, n.d.)

Around one third of the worldwide energy-related CO2 emissions is due to transport, which is also the fastest growing sector in terms of releasing emissions. Although around three-quarters of the emissions of the total transport sector is due to road transportation vehicles (EEA, 2018), the enormous impacts of aircrafts should not lose sight. The effects on global warming of air travel per passenger and kilometre is four times higher than from traveling by car calculated over a five year horizon. The effect of airplanes to the environment is strongly increased due to induced cirrus clouds, contrails and ozone. (Borken-Kleefeld, Berntsen & Fuglestvedt, 2010)

The second cause for increasing man-made temperature is attributable to the agricultural industries and their intensive farming. On one hand, this is due to the fact that huge amounts of chemical fertilisers are used for the harvest. On the other hand, agriculture requires more and more space, as the demand for agricultural products is increasing due to the boost of world population. In order to create more agricultural lands, forests are cleared, which in turn could have absorbed CO2 and reduced man-made emissions. (Perrone, 2018)

As just mentioned, the food production is the second largest greenhouse gas emitter, as well as one of the main land occupants, water polluter and a threat to wildlife. However, the production of beef demands far more resources than any other kind of meat – in fact, according to a study of Eshel et al. (2014), 28 times more land, eleven times more water, six times more fertilizers, as well as it releases 4 to 5 times more greenhouse gases. (Eshel, Shepon, Makov & Milo, 2014)

In the sense of protecting the world’s climate, 196 states worldwide have put in order the ‘Paris Agreement’. The main goal of the agreement is to keep the temperature increase well below 2 degrees, at best to 1.5 degrees. Accordingly, the global greenhouse gas emissions are expected to peek no later than 2020 and subsequently have to be halved every decade. At the same time, for maintaining the world’s energy level, the share of carbon dioxide-free energy sources must be doubled every five to seven years. (UNFCCC, 2015)

Scientists working on the ‘Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’ are confident, that if humanity is continuing to produce emissions in this dimensions, temperatures will continue to rise in this century and beyond with irreversible consequences, such as extreme heat, heavy rainfall, droughts and an additional increase in sea level. The extent to which the climate will change over the next decades is contingent on the released greenhouse gases worldwide and the Earth’s adaptation to it. Scientists are considering a 2°C increase in temperature as a trigger point, at which the changes on the environment and the associated effects will be disastrous. (IPCC, 2018)

Correspondingly, IPCC (2018) released that an temperature rise of 2°C is expected to increase the global sea level on average by 0.3 to 1 meter by 2100, causing coastal areas and islands, especially in the Pacific Ocean, Japan, the U.S., as well as the Netherlands (Musili, 2017) to flood or disappear at all. Even if the temperature rise can be limited to 1.5°C, sea-level will keep increasing due to melting ice sheets. The arctic ice is supposed to be vanished even before the first half of the 21th century (Overland & Wang, 2013). As the arctic ice has been naturally cooling the globe, the climate change has reached a point of no return in terms of shrinking ice and therefore rising sea-level.

Furthermore, the occurrence of extreme weather conditions is expected to increase by an average of 50% and possibly even up to 300% until 2100 (Mann et. al, 2018). Destructive weather events, such as hurricanes, heat waves, droughts, wildfires or heavy rainfall, will not only occur more frequent but also more intense, causing major impacts on the environment and the people living in affected regions. According to a study of Mora et. al (2018), by 2100 specifically tropical areas could be facing up to six natural catastrophes at once, leading to serious damages in economy, infrastructure, food supply as well as a heightened spread of human diseases.

In addition to natural disasters also warmer summers along with milder winter seasons are posing a major challenge to the adaptability of plants. Frost-free seasons are expected to last longer, which will decrease growth and productivity of crops, plants and forests, thus slowing the reduction of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Furthermore, the growth of undesired plants such as ragweed, as well as the spread of allergens and disease carriers is enhanced. (Walsh, 2014)

The same applies for biodiversity. Through the rapid increase in temperature and the associated effects, many species fail to adapt to new conditions, can no longer find sources of food or their natural habitats are destroyed. According to the Vatican Conference on Biological Extinction (2017), biologists declare a ‘manmade major extinction event’ by 2100, in which half of all species worldwide are threatened with extinction. (PAS, 2017)

In order to reach a more prosperous future on an international level, the United Nations member states are pursuing 17 goals in terms of sustainable development on economic, social and ecological grounds:

“They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. The Goals interconnect and in order to leave no one behind, it is important that we achieve each Goal and target by 2030.” (UN General Assembly, 2015)

The first listed goal is no poverty, followed by zero hunger (Goal 2) and good health and well-being (Goal 3), whereas climate action is on the thirteenth position of the sustainable development goals. Pursuing the climate goal is firmly interlinked with other UN goals, such as affordable and clean energy (Goal 7), sustainable cities and communities (Goal 11), responsible production and consumption (Goal 12), as well as life below water and on land (Goals 14 and 15).

In this regard, reconstructing the world’s energy systems into clean and renewable energy is key in reaching the UNs climate goal. As stated above, the energy sector is the main culprit for global warming due to unsustainable energy production. By the expansion of energy efficiency and fossil fuel clean technologies, major environmental benefits, as well as job opportunities and global welfare can be accomplished. Reaching the goal of affordable and sustainable energy is not only very important regarding the UNs sustainable development goals but is also central in the Paris Agreement. Therefore, it poses a major opportunity to preserve long-term livable conditions on earth.

Additionally, the UN’s climate and energy goals are strongly related to the goal of sustainable cities and communities. Since the whole climate issue traces back to the time where the world population and economy started increasing and hence brought along urbanization, this should be the starting point for making a change. With rising awareness in both western and developing countries, more and more cities are investing in sustainable energy sources, transport systems, as well as better organized waste management. The limited industrial emissions will subsequently enhance urban air quality and public health, hence positively contributing to climate change.

In this regard, one major challenge communities and cities are facing are the increasing events of extreme weather conditions that are destroying infrastructure, safety and livelihoods. All this comes with high additional costs for the cities, which in turn could have been used for the expansion of sustainable technologies. On top of that, many cities lack on financial means in the first place having even more troubles rebuilding the city structures, let alone the expansion of sustainable energy and transport systems.

Moreover, the world’s extensive consumerism is not only exploiting the global natural resources but has also massive environmental impacts hidden behind its supply chain. For that reason, the UNs goal for responsible production and consumption forms an important foundation for setting limits to the climate change, as well as reducing poverty. In this regard, the UN is focusing on reducing chemicals and wastes together with an efficient use of resources in the production cycle, thereby improving living and working conditions especially in developing countries, as well as reducing pollution of air, water and soil.

(UN General Assembly, 2015)

For me, as a consumer, sustainable production and consumption is of great importance. The massive impacts on the environment and labour conditions associated with the production of goods is often overlooked or even ignored by consumers. Though everyone is more or less in know of the facts about hidden production and labour conditions of goods, it is often not realized to full extent or not taken into account when buying and consuming. In this connection, also the perceived pressure of society and influence of media to always needing to own the latest products plays an important part.

The same applies for me, too. I knew that climate change was true and it is happening now faster than ever, but watching the documentary “The Story of Stuff” in class, as well as writing an essay about consumerism let me look at this issue with a different eye. Therefore, I see great need for action in arising more awareness among society about the consumerism’s impacts on climate change. In that sense, I believe that education is a powerful tool with a large scale in the long run.

2 Critical Assessment of CSR

CSR is the short form for ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ and it is defined as the social responsibility of companies in terms of sustainable economic activity. More precisely, it is the companies voluntarily economic contribution for their impact on society and sustainable development that goes beyond legal requirements, including social, environmental and economic aspects.

With the industrial development and the globalization of the economy, humanity is being offered many opportunities to shape the world for the better. However, these processes are sometimes accompanied by negative concomitants that affect the preservation of an intact environment, as well as social interactions within society. These resulting environmental and societal issues cannot be handled by politicians and consumers themselves, but also needs the commitment and support of corporations. With companies expressing a sense of responsibility for the impacts of their activities, they are widely contributing to working towards such global challenges. On the grounds of CSR, companies undertake social responsibility for their activities by complying with human rights and international labor standards, sustainable management of resources, environment protection, as well as meeting expectations and needs of all its stakeholders. (Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales, 2019)

An important publication on CSR is the book “Corporate Social Responsibility: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” by Subhabrata Banerjee of 2007. In one of the chapters, he discusses the current debate on sustainability based on environmental, economic and social challenges. In order to understand better the emerge of the concept of sustainable development, he first starts with the process of exploiting developing countries. The industry and prosperity in the ‘First World’ has mainly been accomplished through the outsourcing of polluting industrial zones into the ‘Third World’. While the former achieved great economic growth in doing so, the latter had to bear the costs of destroying natural resources and causing severe environmental impacts. Nevertheless, the developing countries are dependent on the thereby achieved exports. Now, with increasing awareness about climate change, the ‘Third World’ is forced to reduce its emissions which will prevent them from an economic breakthrough. Banerjee describes it as ironic, that industrialized countries are benefitting from their standard of living while simultaneously limiting the prospects of countries that enabled it in the first place. Environmental benefits, destructions, as well as protection measures are thus very unequally shared, which strongly infuses the idea of sustainable development. Over time, economic growth and development emerged as interchangeable and it became apparent that it was often connected to inequalities in terms of social and environmental implications.

The implementation of CSR, hence the improvement of environmental and social welfare, is particularly more complex in poorer countries, as these regions are prone to a lack of uniform guidelines and laws, or even abusive government practices, such as corruption or military involvement. Furthermore, many corporate activities are strongly criticized by environmental and human rights activists due to severe damages on their land and livelihoods. However, companies cannot fully compensate for social and environmental defaults of the political economy with their own operations. Since developing countries are economically dependent on tourism and exports, there is also greater willingness to downplay social and ecological aberrations. The lack of ethics of order and stability therefore represents one of the biggest challenges faced by companies in developing countries. In addition, rigid cultural and religious beliefs may pose an obstacle in some areas of the company, especially regarding women’s rights, behavioural rules and status.

(Banerjee, 2007)

In Levy & Spicer’s article “Contested imaginaries and the cultural political economy of climate change” (2013), the authors describe different concepts of climate change based on environmental and cultural values, ​​that companies are struggling with when trying to respond to climate change. Concerning this matter, four climate scenarios have been outlined in order to understand better why companies and governments fail to take effective actions despite the growing urge of climate change. These scenarios are referred to as climate imaginaries and are designed as an ideal future conception.

The first mentioned scenario in the article was named after ‘fossil fuels forever’, as the burning of low-priced fossil fuels has entailed prosperity and material comfort over the years of industrialization. Through the development of new technologies, the detection and exploitation of fossil fuels has become more accessible and hence they are abundantly available. As previously discussed, the combustion of fossil fuels has massive impacts on the environment. However also the limitation of these fuels would lead to serious economic disturbances, such as risking industrial comfort and stability, as well as threatening growth prospects for developing countries. Within this imaginary, a strong contradiction between wealth provoked by fossil fuels and a cold and poor future in case of restricted fuels is portrayed. This mainly affects regions with large energy sectors that are worried about their competitiveness, such as the U.S., as well as emerging countries with large coal deposits, such as China.

The next imaginary introduced in Levy & Spicer’s article is the ‘climate apocalypse’, which, as its name suggests, represents an alerting vision of the future. This scenario is observed from different points of view by companies and researchers. On one hand, it is considered as an effective incentive for action and change, and on the contrary as counterproductive and ‘too extreme for the public policy world to absorb’ (Wynne, 2010: 293). However, climate researchers gradually succeeded in constructing a credible account for climate change and its man-made impacts. Through the increasing signs and visibility of the impacts, scientists are addressing climate change therefore as an increasingly pressing challenge for the world. Accepting those drastic scenarios would mean enormous spending on energy and infrastructure, stricter environmental state regulations, as well as a challenge to consumption and capitalism for companies and governments, which is why it is widely avoided and disfavoured by them.

In contrast to this alarming picture of the future, the authors quoted an optimistic and modern imaginary, called the ‘techno-market’. It focuses on clean, next generation technology concerning eco-friendly solar, wind, and innovative carbon management structures. By that, the establishment of new market and employment opportunities for companies, alongside the fight against climate change can be supported. Additionally, the authors mentioned the version of ‘Green New Deal’ (GND), which is considered as having great potential for tackling climate change, while creating jobs and supporting economic growth because of its influence on politics and culture. However, also this scenario has opponents, who cite arguments that range from failures of solar firms despite receiving high governmental subsidies, the continuance of consumerism through to inconsistency of sustainability and capitalism.


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Climate Change and Corporate Social Responsibility
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climate, change, corporate, social, responsibility
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Sophia Schlenz (Author), 2019, Climate Change and Corporate Social Responsibility, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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