Even though the issue of climate change has been known for about decades, it has only been in the past five years or so that the topic has been seriously addressed. Governments and businesses have started to adapt their policies and practices, mostly due to pressure from the public.

In a panel discussion at the recent European Business Summit in Brussels, participants considered what politicians and businesses can expect 50 years from now, and how they can prepare for future challenges and opportunities. The panel included experts from the European Commission and private companies.

All the panellists agree that climate change issue is still going to be on the agenda 50 years from now. The general consensus is that there is a need to keep tackling carbon emissions and that there is the technology to do it. In order to keep pressing ahead with initiatives, policies need to be agreed upon and implemented.

Climate change policies will stay with us for the next century, says Arthur Runge-Metzger, DG Environment of the European Commission, Head of Unit dealing with Climate Strategy, International Negotiations and Monitoring of EU Action. In 50 years' time, emission reductions will still be necessary and governments will continue to lower the cap. Right now the cap is at 1.76 gigatons. In 2050, the cap might be 0.4 gigatons. Research and innovation in low carbon technologies will remain lucrative investments.

The effects of inevitable climate change will continue to be felt. Runge-Metzger says governments will have to anticipate well in advance adaptation measures for long term public infrastructure e.g where to build bridges. The private sector when making business decisions will have to take into account the effects of climate change e.g. where would you build new power plants and whether you would build the factory near a river.

Joachim Lohse, Executive Director of Oko Institute, a European research and consultancy institution working for a sustainable future, says that everyone has to be involved in the battle against climate change.

The Oko Institute sees the race for resources in full swing, fuelled by the strong economies of densely populated, newly industrialising countries. This race forces up demand for raw materials and threaten to wipe out all gains in sustainable resource efficiency. Industrialised and newly-industrialised countries need to work together to secure resources for all in the long term. The Institute feels that Europe can proactively support the exchange of know-how and innovative technologies.

Miguel Veiga-Pestana, Vice President Global External Relations of Unilever, and Carin Ten Hage, Planet Me Programme Director of TNT, both agree that end-users need to be engaged in the fight against climate change.

Unilever's greenhouse gas footprint is around 400 million tons of CO2. Of this, 80 per cent of the carbon emitted was from using home and personal care products; only 20 per cent was emitted making the products, Veiga-Pestana says. Ultimately, consumers need to change their behaviour.

The issue is climate change but when customers are involved, there are issues of sustainability and sustainable living. The challenge of the next 50 years, says Veiga-Pestana, is managing multiple issues - population growth, eco-systems, water shortage and fossil fuel usage - in an integrated way.

Ten Hage discussed the business perspective of climate change; the paradox between a challenge that requires long term investment and significant change, and a business environment that has to deliver results in the short term. She emphasised the need for TNT to work together with other businesses, the European Union and the consumers to achieve its business goals as well as zero emission.