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Blog: Is there a Lack of Chemical Industry Leadership at the UN Climate Summit?

5:48 AM MST | December 9, 2010 | By ALEX SCOTT

Marijn Dekkers, chairman of Bayer, at the company’s annual innovation strategy briefing yesterday in Leverkusen rounded on policy makers and the public for not understanding the true benefits of chemistry and the quality of life that certain chemicals can bring. This misunderstanding is curbing the ability of Bayer to build new plants in countries such as the U.S. and across Europe, he says. “Particularly in Germany, we are currently experiencing what in some cases are very emotional – one could say almost ‘irrational’ discussions about industrial projects and innovation,” he says. “These days, anyone intending to construct a new industrial facility or introduce a new technology to the market can expect to encounter considerable public resistance. All too frequently, only the risks are discussed and rarely the opportunities.”
 
He’s got a point: Chemicals and the chemical industry still have a poor public image despite inventions by the chemical industry of materials for wind turbines, photovoltaic cells, insulation of buildings, and lightweight materials for more energy efficiency automotives, and more. Bayer is involved in the production of all of the above and says it still struggles to put over a positive image.
 
The position held by Bayer, and indeed the chemical industry, is backed up by the findings of a 2009 McKinsey study, which concluded that on average, approximately 3 m.t. of the greenhouse gas (GHG) CO2 is prevented from being released to the atmosphere for every 1 m.t. of GHG emitted in chemical production. The chemical industry is a net saver of GHG emissions.
 
It’s a good story to tell. According to Peter Natkanski, Syngenta’s head of health, safety and environment, talking to CW earlier this year, it’s the best story industry has ever had to tell and one that industry should be telling to the biggest audience possible. Arguably, industry has yet to make a good job of telling the story at the United Nations climate summit taking place this week at Cancun, Mexico.
 
When I asked Dr Dekkers yesterday what outcome he wanted from the climate summit he passed the question over to board member and right hand man Wolfgang Plischke. Plischke’s response was emphatic – that Bayer is taking its responsibilities seriously when it comes to GHG emissions reduction and that the company is manufacturing goods that can enable mitigation against global warming. His answer to the question is that Bayer wants the representatives of the 200 or so countries gathered in Cancun to hammer out a global agreement to curb climate change.
 
The problem is that reaching agreement – with just two days of negotiations left and seemingly diverse positions held by leading nations – is highly unlikely. The negotiators for some time now have needed every kind of persuasion they can get.
 
Industry does have some presence in Cancun, and one of its big guns – Dow Chemical’s Andrew Liveris - has been in town talking to the likes of Felipe Calderon, the president of Mexico. Liveris also has been presenting industry’s case relating to climate change in public discussions. Undoubtedly, his presence in Cancun, along with that of other industry leaders, is needed if the ‘good’ story about the chemical industry is to be learned.
 
Liveris has not been on his own out in Cancun. But if chemical companies, including Bayer, want to be taken seriously as a force for good and new chemical plants are to be welcomed by communities in the west then, surely Cancun - not Leverkusen - is where Dekkers should have been this week?
 
 












 
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