updated 2/21/2007 9:59:04 AM ET 2007-02-21T14:59:04

The leaders of several worldwide corporations — including General Electric, Volvo and Air France-KLM — called Tuesday for prompt, decisive action on climate change created by the emission of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide.

Nearly 100 companies followed a meeting at Columbia University by endorsing a formal statement to fight for clean energy and against climate change caused by people and businesses. The companies are members of the Global Roundtable on Climate Change, formed in 2004 to explore issues critical to shaping public and industry policy on climate change.

"This is an issue that requires action now but will not be solved immediately," said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, which created the Global Roundtable.

The statement by the international business community seeks to lay out a framework for global action to mitigate the impact of human-made climate change without adversely affecting energy and economic growth, according to Sachs, who also spoke at the United Nations on Friday. The business leaders hoped that a permanent plan could be in place by 2012.

"Climate change is an urgent problem that requires global action ... in a time frame that minimizes the risk of serious human impact on the Earth's natural systems," the joint statement said.

The modern age is powered largely by fossil fuels coal, oil and gas. The fossil fuel era has been a period of unprecedented economic advances, the statement noted.

"Yet we now understand that fossil fuels — as they are currently used — increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which along with the release of other greenhouse gases warms the planet and leads to other impacts on global climate change," it stated.

Targets sought
The document calls on governments to set scientifically informed targets for reduced global emissions and concentrations of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases and to take immediate action in pursuit of those targets.

The business community wants a framework because it provides predictability. It said that generally politicians lag behind the business sector in addressing the need to reduce human-made climate change.

Alain Belda, chairman and chief executive of Alcoa, the world's leading producer of aluminum, said addressing climate change involves "risks and costs."

"But much greater is the risk of failing to act," he said.

The potential recommendations must be mandatory, and the costs of de-carbonization or change over to low carbon are smaller than people fear, said Sachs. He said it cannot be successful without the participation of countries such as China, India, Australia and the United States.

China will soon replace the United States as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide, he said.

Tomas Ericson, president of Volvo Group, North America, said that the environment has become one of the priorities of the vehicle manufacturer, along with safety and quality.

"We feel we are part of the problem, and we feel we need to be part of the solution," Ericson said at the meeting.

Robert Edgar, of the National Council of Churches, a member of the Roundtable group, said everyone has the responsibility to be a steward of Earth by limiting future impacts on global warming and preserving nature's resources.

"We feel this is a moral issue," Edgar said.

Earlier momentum
On Jan. 22 in Washington, D.C., chief executives of 10 major corporations urged Congress to require limits on greenhouse gases this year, contending voluntary efforts to combat climate change are inadequate.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush said that climate change needs to be addressed, but he has opposed any mandatory emission caps, arguing that industry through development of new technologies can deal with the issue.

In a January letter to Bush, the executives and leaders of four major environmental organizations said mandatory emissions caps are needed to reduce the flow of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

China announced this month it will spend more money to research global warming, but it said it lacks the money and technology to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On Monday, the country's environmental watchdog said it had failed to reach any of its pollution control goals for 2006.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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