Vereeniging - More than 500 major international companies have published a joint communiqué on the Internet in which they appeal to global leaders to reach a compelling agreement at Copenhagen, Denmark, in December to ward off the climate crisis confronting the world today.
They warn that the business world will suffer serious damage if world leaders fail to arrive at a fitting agreement at year-end.
The communiqué was drawn up to coincide with the United Nations (UN) Conference on Climate Change beginning at the UN's head office in New York on Monday, and which will be attended by more than 100 heads of state.
South African businesses - Nedbank, Absa, Pick n Pay, Santam, Sanlam and Sappi, among others - that signed the Copenhagen communiqué joined the other signatories in declaring: "These are difficult and challenging times for the international business community and if a weak agreement is reached by the UN's climate conference in Copenhagen at year-end, business confidence will be undermined, and greater uncertainty ensue.
The Copenhagen communiqué is being driven by the University of Cambridge's programme for sustainable leadership. Prince Charles is the patron of the project.
In the communiqué the companies warn that economic development will be unsustainable if climate is not stabilised.
"It is of critical importance that we move out of the recession in such a way as to lay the foundation for a low-carbon economy."
The companies say they do not want to be "locked" in an economy that remains dependent on fossil fuel and huge amounts of carbon dioxide.
A plea is made for the reduction of greenhouse gases. The signatories subscribe to an agreement that greenhouse gases will peak in the next couple of years, then show a radical reduction by the end of the current decade - and be 85% down by 2050.
The business leaders call on developed countries to "immediately" start limiting their greenhouse gases and already show the world that progress towards a low-carbon economy is both possible and achievable.
They also asked for developing countries (like South Africa) to draw up plans to cut back on exhaust emissions and set targets for 2020.
With regard to the most controversial aspect of climate negotiations - the funding (by developed countries) of clean technology and helping developing countries to adapt to climate change - the business leaders state: "The costs are manageable, even in the current economic climate."
Some observers believe that by 2030 developed countries will have to pay developing countries as much as R1 300bn to help them advance towards a low-carbon economy, as well as adjust to the most extreme of weather conditions.
This week the global focus is on a variety of opportunities for climate change.
Other major companies that signed the communiqué include Coca-Cola, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Starbucks Coffee Company, Adidas, Air France-KLM, Nestlé, Philips, the Virgin Group, Cathay Pacific and British Airways.
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